Saturday, 30 August 2014

...of the war-weary

It had already been a long time since the battery had stopped firing and under the big trees it was completely dark. From far away, they could see the column arriving. Only the first of the vehicles had turned on its lights which illuminated little more than four or five yards ahead of it, and they could see them for a long while, suspended in the darkness like two pale moons trembling faintly, not seeming to advance, imperceptibly growing larger as they approached along the forest path. Having come up to the battery, the first truck stopped and, behind it, the row of vehicles became motionless. Two officers got out and while unfolding their maps headed toward the artillerymen's radio truck. The trucks of the convoy were canvas topped and nothing was moving inside. The canvas flaps were open at the rear of each one, and as they approached, the artillerymen and the cavalrymen saw two rows of soldiers sitting opposite each other on benches set lengthwise in the truck. As a matter of fact, they could make out only the first men in each row, those closest to the rear of the vehicle, with behind them, in the dark, motionless and silent shapes whose presence they could divine - their berating and something else that emanated from them, more silent tan silence itself or rather as if silence and darkness had themselves been something tangible, something that enveloped the two rows of soldiers or rather emerged from them and remained there, stagnant, compact and unbreathable, enclosed under the dark canvas. Packed against each other like children, docilely sitting face to face, their rifles vertical between their knees which touched each other, they seemed like those frightened animals which huddle in the back of a cage and keep perfectly still, like rabbits, merely breathing. The cavalrymen asked them if they belonged to that North African infantry division whose arrival as reinforcements had been repeatedly announced, but they continued to keep silent...

[The Acacia, Simon, C.]

...of rage

...she continued nonetheless to advance, eyes fixed on the automobile, the sort of monstrous beetle with iron wings, with exophthalmic eyes, with shining brass mandibles, parked in front of the hotel with its driver still in a duster, his huge googles in his hand, watching her advance toward him, standing beside the old lady sitting beside a garden table and who was also watching her - it can be said that through her tears, through the shining film that covered the old, suddenly collapsed cheeks like a varnish, the silent screen of tears, she (the old lady) could distinguish anything but two bright shapes blending into the shadowy background foliage, growing larger, managing (the old lady) to stand up, to walk in the direction of that dead woman with huge eyes whose mute lips were stirring mechanically, incapable of articulating a sound, opening and closing on words whose meaning the woman trying to utter them (or not even trying: murmuring mechanically, the way a fish out of water, half asphyxiated, continues to open and close its mouth on the void) no longer (or not yet) managed to understand, words inaudible among similarly meaningless noises (the rustle of wind in the swaying branches, the gurgle of leaping water, the chirping of birds): merely assemblages of letters separated by blanks, as they would figure later not engraved in marble or stone but simply printed on the back of that grating announcement no bigger and no heavier than a playing card, her lips still moving of their own accord, faintly, agitated as though a nervous tic, a tremor, endlessly forming over and over the same phrase, the same mute lacerating howl, with no other echo than the indifferent stir of the branches, the monotonous cry of the same bird, the monotonous scraping of the hoe wielded by one of the lethargic gardeners, as if the whole lethargic universe, the earth which was continuing its slow turning, the shaggy cloud which was continuing to disintegrate, to coagulate, to disintegrate again around the jagged peaks, the mountains, the valley, were gradually diluting, absorbing, erasing, annihilating the series of words powerless to escape her throat, stammering, disintegrating, returning again, like a litany, a mad-woman's mumbled phrase: Thy will be... Thy will be... Thy will...

[The Acacia, Simon, C.]

...of an officer

It was, in fact, on the occasion of a wedding that she found herself placed at table next to a man like no one she had ever met before, had never even imagined could exist: one of the groomsmen, an officer wearing a midnight-blue tunic with red braid anchors embroidered on the collar, his expression (with his square beard, his moustaches waxed to points, his transparent, liquid, china-blue eyes in a sunburned face, his manners not so much taciturn as reserved, deliberate) rather like that of a disciplined barbarian, stamped with a tranquil assurance which, it too, was the contrary of what was betrayed by the little songs and quatrains scribbled on the backs of those postcards she was collecting less for the gratification of a much-courted young lady than in the way others collect stamps or match covers. Subsequently, when in his turn he sent postcards to her, mailed from almost everywhere in the world, he soberly confined himself to writing his name under three figures indicating the day, the month, and the year - as if he were already certain of the uselessness, if not even the indecency, of any discourse, as if doubtless she as well had already reached that stage where a date and a name (the first one's, for form's sake, with the signature preceded by "warmest thought," then "best regards," then "faithfully," then nothing more than the name...) sufficed - just as no doubt they did not say much to each other that first time, talking about anything at all except themselves, neither one of them hearing, listening further to what they were saying, perhaps even avoiding looking at each other, while, deafened by the vague racket of the conversations and the clatter of crystal and silver that surrounded them...

[The Acacia, Simon, C.]

...of return

It is only a moment later that he hears the cuckoo. That is, the terrible racket of his breathing subsiding (now he is walking: at a regular pace but without hurrying, so that gradually his heart and lungs recover their normal functioning), sheltered now, the awareness of the external world gradually returning otherwise than through the elementary alternative of cover and exposure; he can then perceive the tiny sounds that constitute the silence of the dense, motionless woods: the faint hissing of the air in the treetops, the rustle of the foliage, his footsteps muffled by the spongy ground, the elastic carpet of accumulated humus, and reaching him at regular intervals, the double cry of the bird, echoed between the vertical trunks, as if after having been uttered it continued to exist by its very absence, as if to underline the silence, to make it even more evident, sounded with the regularity of a clock not to disturb but to emphasise it, to release one accumulation of time and to permit another quantity to accumulate in its turn, to thicken, until the moment when it will be liberated by the cry, until he stops walking, stands there motionless under the stinking carapace of broadcloth and leather weighed down by water (but he doesn't feel it, merely constitutes with it one compact mass of filth and fatigue, of a substance, so to speak, undifferentiated, earthen, as if his brain itself, bewildered by lack of sleep, was filled with a sort of mud, his face separated from the external world, from the air, by a scorching film, a kind of mask stuck to the skin), listening, waiting till the cry of the cuckoo reaches him again, then hearing that silence flow back, peopled now by a tremendous uproar not that of the war (at one very remote moment, as though coming from another world, anachronistic as it were, at once absurd, scandalous, and savage, echoed a series of explosions: not a sound strictly speaking (or else something that would be to sound what grey is to colour), not something human, that is, capable of being governed by man, cosmic rather, the air repeatedly shaken, brutally compressed and decompressed in some gigantic and furious convulsion, then nothing more), nor the rustle of branches gently rocked or the faint hissing of the breeze in the vault of the foliage, but more secret, more enormous, surrounding him on all sides, continuous, indifferent, the invisible and triumphant impulse of the sap, the imperceptible and slow unfolding into daylight of the buds, the corollas, the leaves with their complicated folds opening, smoothing themselves out, spreading, palpitating, fragile, invincible, and tender green.

[The Acacia, Simon, C.]

...of pause

"I don't like to talk about those days," Michele says.
"But you must have talked about it once," Pierre says argumentatively. "I don't know how I knew, but I knew you lived in Enghien."
The peach falls onto the plate and pieces of the skin stick to its flesh. Michele cleans the peach with a knife and Pierre feels the distaste again, starts grinding the coffee as hard as he can. Why doesn't she say something? She looks like she's suffering, busy cleaning the horrible runny peach. Why doesn't she talk? She's full of words, all you have to do is look at her hands, or the nervous flutter of her eyelids that turns into a kind of tic sometimes, all of one side of her face rises slightly, then goes back, he remembers once on a bench in Luxembourg gardens, he noticed that the tic always coincides with a moment of uneasiness or a silence.
Michele is preparing the coffee, her back to Pierre, who uses the butt of one cigarette to light another. They go back into the living room, carrying the porcelain cups with the blue design on them. The smell of the coffee makes them feel better, they look at one another, surprised by the period of silence and what went before it; they exchange a few casual words, looking at one another and smiling, they drink the coffee distractedly, the way you drink love potions that tie you forever. Michele has partly closed the shutters and a warm, greenish light filters in from the garden and wraps around them like the cigarette smoke and the cognac that Pierre is sipping, lost in a mild loneliness. Bobby is sleeping on the rug, trembling and sighing.

[Secret Weapons, from Blow Up and Other Stories, Cortazar, J.]

...of a step further

When one is not too sure of anything, the best thing to do is make obligations for oneself that'll act as pontoons. Two or three days later I thought that I had an obligation to find out if the marquesa was helping Johnny Carter score for heroin, and I went to her studio down in Montparnasse. The marquesa us really a marquesa, she's got mountains of money from the marquis, though it's been some time they've been divorced because of dope and other, similar, reasons. Her friendship with Johnny dates from New York, probably from the year when Johnny got famous overnight simply because someone had given him the chance to get four or five guys together who dug his style, and Johnny could work comfortably for the first time, and what he blew left everyone in a state of of shock. This is not the place to be a jazz critic, and anyone who's interested can read my book on Johnny and the new post-war style, but I can say that in forty-eight - let's say until fifty - was like an explosion in music, but a cold, silent explosion, an explosion where everything remained in its place and there were no screams or debris flying, but the crust of habit splintered into a million pieces until its defenders (in the bands and among the public) made hipness a question of self-esteem over something which didn't feel to them as it had before. Because after Johnny's step with the alto sax you couldn't keep on listening to earlier musicians and think that they were the end; one must submit and apply that sort of disguised resignation which is called the historical sense, and say that any one of those musicians had been stupendous, and kept on being so, in his moment. Johnny had passed over jazz like a hand turning a page, that was it.

[The Pursuer, from Blow Up and Other Stories, Cortazar, J.]

...of a child's kingdom

Where we ended up was by the Argentine Central tracks, when the house had settled down and was silent, and we saw the cat stretched out under the lemon tree to take its siesta also, a rest buzzing with fragrances and wasps. We'd open the white gate slowly, and when we shut it again with a slam like a blast of wind, it was a freedom which took us by the hands, seized the whole of our bodies and tumbled us out. Then we ran, trying to get the speed to scramble up the low embankment of the right-of-way, and there spread out upon the world, we silently surveyed our kingdom.
Our kingdom was this: a long curve of the tracks ended its bend just opposite the back section of the house. There was just the gravel incline, the cross ties, and the double line of track; some dumb sparse grass among the rubble where mica, quartz and feldspar - the components of granite - sparkled like real diamonds in the two o'clock afternoon sun. When we stooped down to touch the rails (not wasting time because it would have been dangerous to spend much time there, not so much from the trains as for fear of being seen from the house), the heat off the stone roadbed flushed our faces, and facing into the wind from the river there was a damp heat against our cheeks and ears. We liked to bend our legs and squat down, rise, squat again, move from one kind of hot zone to the other, watching each other's faces to measure the perspiration - a minute or two later we would be sopping with it. And we were always quiet, looking down the track into the distance, or at the river on the other side, that stretch of coffee-and-cream river.

[End of the Game, from Blow Up and Other Stories, Cortazar, J.]

Sunday, 17 August 2014

...of the future

Up until now I've kept time and space separated to help you understand me better, or rather so that I could understand better what I should make you understand, but in those days I didn't really distinguish too clearly what one of them was from what the other was: there was me, in that point and at that moment - right? - and then there was an outside which seemed to me a void I might occupy in another moment or point, in a series of other points or moments, in short a potential projection of me where, however, I wasn't present, and therefore a void which was actually the world and the future, but I didn't know that yet; it was void because perception was still denied me, and as for imagination I was even further behind, and when it came to mental categories I was a total loss, but I had this contentment because outside of me there was this void that wasn't me, which perhaps could become me because 'me' was the only word I knew, the only word I could have declined, a void that could become me, however, wasn't me at that moment and basically never would be: it was the discovery of something else that wasn't yet something but anyhow wasn't me, or rather wasn't me at that moment and in that point and therefore was something else, and this discovery aroused an exhilarating enthusiasm in me, no, a torment, a dizzying torture, the dizziness of a void which represented everything possible, the complement of that fullness that was for me all, and there I was brimming over with love for this elsewhere, this other time, this otherwise, silent and void.

[I. MitosisThe Complete Cosmicomics, Calvino, I.]

...of uncertainty

She turned and said: 'Nice and cool, isn't it?' She went on conversing amiably, the usual remarks one makes to strangers, asking me if I came from far away, if I had run into rain on the trip, or if it had been sunny. I would never have imagined it possible to talk like that with non-Dinosaurs, and I was tense and mostly silent.
'I always come here to drink,' she said, 'to the Dinosaur...'
I reacted with a start, my eyes widening.
'Oh, yes, that's what we call it. The Dinosaur's Spring... that's been its name since ancient times. They say that a Dinosaur hid here, one of the last, and whenever anybody came here for a drink the Dinosaur jumped on him and tore him limb from limb. My goodness!'
I wanted to drop through the earth. 'Now she'll realise who I am,' I was thinking, 'now she'll take a better look at me and recognise me!' And as one does, when one doesn't want to be observed, I kept my eyes lowered and coiled my tail, as if to hide it. It was such a strain that when, still smiling, she said goodbye and went on her way, I felt as tired as if I'd fought a battle, one of those battles we fought when we were defending ourselves with our claws and our teeth. I realised I hadn't even said goodbye back to her.
I reached the shore of a river, where the New Ones had their dens and fished for their living. To create a bend in the river, where the water would be less rapid and would hold the fish, they were constructing a dam of branches. As soon as they saw me, they glanced up from their work and stopped. They looked at me, then at each other, in silence, as if questioning one another. 'This is it,' I thought, 'all I can do is sell my life dearly.' And I prepared to leap to my defence.

[The DinosaursThe Complete Cosmicomics, Calvino, I.]

...of grey

Night fell, the first I had spent not embracing a rock, and perhaps for this reason it seemed cruelly shorter to me. The light tended at every moment to erase Ayl, to cast a doubt on her presence, but the darkness restored my certainty she was there.
The day returned, to paint the Earth with grey; and my gaze moved around and didn't see her. I let out a mute cry: 'Ayl! Why have you run off?' But she was in front of me and was looking for me, too; she couldn't see me and silently shouted: 'Qfwfg! Where are you?' Until our eyesight darkened, examining that sooty luminosity and recognising the outline of an eyebrow, an elbow, a thigh.
Then I wanted to shower Ayl with presents, but nothing seemed to me worthy of her. I hunted for everything that was in some way detached from the uniform surface of the world, everything marked by a speckling, a stain. But I was soon forced to realise that Ayl and I had different tastes, if not downright opposite ones: I was seeking a new world beyond the pallid patina that imprisoned everything, I examined every sign, every crack (to tell the truth something was beginning to change: in certain points the colourlessness seemed shot through with variegated flashes); instead, Ayl was a happy inhabitant of the silence that reigns where all vibration is excluded; for her anything that looked likely to break the absolute neutrality was a harsh discord; beauty began for her only where the greyness had extinguished even the remotest desire to be anything other than grey.
How could we understand each other? Nothing in the world that lay before our eyes was sufficient to express what we felt for each other, but while I was in a fury to wrest unknown vibrations from things, she wanted to reduce everything to the colourless beyond of their ultimate substance.

[Without Colours, The Complete Cosmicomics, Calvino, I.]

Saturday, 16 August 2014

...of a babel

...They glide slowly by, one after the other, on his right, vaguely unreal, incredible, like the repetition, with minor variations, of the face of one and the same person reproduced in several copies, some black and some white, each with a slightly different expression, absent, so to speak, both from his material envelope and from his natural habitat, transported into some other distant world, uttering inaudible words, listening for inaudible responses recorded and transmitted not by a flesh-and-blood conversational partner but by the ear and mouth of ebonite that he is holding against his own ear and his own mouth, each of them carrying on an interminable, passionate, voluble discourse of his own benefit alone, in a silent and incoherent cacophony, the delegates around the long free baize-covered table all speaking and waving their arms at the same time, the little chairman attempting from time to time to raise his hand to plead for silence, leaning over the microphone placed in front of him, beginning a sentence, then giving up, turning his head to take as his witnesses several people standing behind him, each of whom leans over in turn to look over his shoulder as he mechanically continues to hold his arm up in the air, several arms around the table likewise being raised, like those of pupils in a classroom, the hubbub now having reached its climax, having gone flat, so to speak, cancelling itself out, destroying itself, a sort of quiet sound now (like the lapping of water stirred by the wind in a boat basin where the little waves strike the stone sides of the wharves and bounce back off, bumping into the ones following immediately behind them as they retreat, so that as they mingle and swirl about it it is impossible to make out any predominant orientation or prevailing direction of motion, the water being covered with sharp little pointed crests which appear to rise and fall without ever changing place, the overall surface thus undergoing no visible modification), as though disorder and incoherence constituted the inevitable, natural, stagnant state of affairs, the observers and the journalists sitting in rows like the rings of an onion along the bay windows and the imitation Greek columns also talking, leaning forward so as to hear or see better, certain of them rising to their feet, joining the groups of delegates standing about...

[Conducting Bodies, Simon, C.]

...of a telephone booth

...Contrasting with the luminous reflections of the pedestrians passing by on the sunlit sidewalk (among whom the group formed by the woman and the child, standing there motionless, can still be seen), the row of severed legs, with their vague resemblance to prosthetic devices, seems to have been put in storage there, like stage props of a grotesque, artificial, nocturnal world whose colour has faded in the daylight. Several elderly ladies in outlandish getups are seated in a row on one of the benches in the foyer of the hotel with the thick red carpeting and marble columns. From inside the telephone booth he can see their withered, painted faces and the flowered hats atop their heads, like huge begonias in soft colours, pastel pink or pale blue. In the distant silence at the other end of the line the telephone keeps ringing at regular intervals. In between rings he can hear the silence slowly flowing, with a slight hissing sound, like thick layers of time fleeting, continuously and inexorably. The airplane seems to be suspended motionless in a space without a single point of reference above the vast stretch of gently rounded clouds ahead and behind, to the right and to the left...

[Conducting Bodies, Simon, C.]

...of orgasm

"So go on," she said. "You were telling me how you were on the floor rolling your head back and forth?"
"Oh, right. Well, I was on the floor with the catalog facedown on my chest, entranced by those tights, and a conception, this conception of thrilling wrongness, took shape in my brain stem. I had a vision of myself jerking off while I ordered that pair of tights, specifically the vision was of, of, of..."
"Of being in the bathtub, but on the phone with the order-taker from Deliques, who's got, you know, this nice innocent voice, a mistaken but loveable over frizzed perm, a hint of twang, bland face, freshly laundered jeans, cute socks, but probably wearing a pair of Deliques finest 'fusion panties' with a chevron of lace or something over her mound, which she's bought at the employees discount, while I'm in my bathtub, which is ridiculous since I never take baths, but I'm in my bathtub moving so carefully so she won't hear any aquatic splips or splaps and know that I've taken the portable phone into the bathroom and that I'm semi-submerged, and she says, 'Let me check to be sure we have that in stock for you, sir' and during the pause, I arch myself up out of the water and sort of point the phone at my Werner Heisenberg so she can see it somehow or get its vibes, and at the moment she says, 'Yes, we do have the pointelle tights in faun,' I come, in perfect silence, making a Smurf grimace."

[Vox, Baker, N.]

Saturday, 2 August 2014

...of consent

...Shortly afterward - about a year - when you took them to a museum... - It was not to a museum. It was to an exhibition. - That may be, it is not stated precisely in the report. Shall we say to an exhibition. They turned aside from that canvas - which is very fine - by the master of Avignon. - Didn't turn aside. I exaggerated. They stood there in front of it, but without looking at it. They had that unreceptive, self-centred look... And when I said: It's lovely... - You made a declaration in which you used the expression "turned aside." You were wrong. - Yes. To tell the real truth, I should have declared rather that when I remarked: It's lovely... they remained silent. - That, however, was hardly conclusive. It would have to be proved that their silence was hostile. You know the saying: Silence gives consent? - Their silence was hostile. - Was that all there was? Nothing else? No shrugging of shoulders? A slight sneer or even just one of those faint smiles? - I saw nothing of the kind... - And you have no witness? - No, we were alone. - Then there is no proof. Here, as you were told, we only take into account what may be seen. - Then there is no proof? Really? Silence gives consent... Of course, that is impressive. Very impressive. There have of course been so many other silences concerning which I could have sworn... - Still basing yourself on mere impressions? And we can't take into consideration impressions of this kind. There could have been consent in that silence that day, just for a second, without your knowing it. - Yes, just for a second? Just, even among them? Even among them... does one ever know?... even they, forgetting my presence for once, may have felt a fluid, a current, coming from the canvas... passing over me, to one side of me, even they... it's not impossible... they who are such poor conductors, so unreceptive... it may even have passed through them... That single second is enough, isn't it? One second of repentance permits us to redeem all our sins... - Yes, but if you don't mind, let us return to what can be proved...

[Do You Hear Them?, Sarraute, N.]

...of art appreciation

It's strange... yet there is nothing in common... I don't know why this animal makes me think... I don't know if you remember... in the Berlin Museum, in the Egyptian sculpture collection, a woman, to the left, as you enter... Yes, yes, I believe I see... - Well, there exists in the line of the thigh, the right thigh, which is in the foreground... there... starting at the hip... He lifts his heavy body on a sudden impulse, stands in the middle of the room, his fat torso leaning slightly backward, puts out his foot, runs his hand the length of his leg... there... you see... Just that... from here to here... Really exquisite... - Oh, yes I see... - Astonishing, isn't it? I was quite staggered by it. One day I spoke of it to Duvivier... Well, believe it or not, he's even more impressed than I am... He told me that it was what had struck him most in that entire Museum... - Oh, there I think he exaggerates. But it is true, for that, I too, would give... They grow silent, deep in though...
Upon this relic brought back from distant pilgrimages, from long peregrinations through time and space, upon this carefully isolated fragment, set apart, transported, preserved intact and deposited in their common fund, in a simultaneous movement their eyes converge... Like two loving parents hovering above their child, through it they come together, they become one... Moments of perfect understanding...
How fragile. is well known. Who does not know that the most complete fusions only last a few seconds. It is imprudent to put them to the test too often, or for too long, even between near relations, even between ourselves... Wouldn't another form, another line, brought back from elsewhere, suffice to make the two soul mates immediately separate, drift apart from each other, surrounded by loneliness? Isn't that the lot of us all, our inevitable common fate?

[Do You Hear Them?, Sarraute, N.]

...of mockery

How do you mean who? But how could you not know that, without making a move, as soon as they have settled, shut in up there, they can dispose of an immense force, they possess enormous power... One single invisible ray emitted by them can turn this heavy stone into a hollow, flabby thing... One look is enough. Not even a look, a silence is enough... You didn't notice a while back? You didn't feel anything when you said: Why, it would deserve to figure in a museum?... You didn't notice a sort of eddy in that silence?... - An eddy? - Yes, when you said that: figure in a museum... - That's true, I did say that. Exactly: in a museum. I'm ready to repeat it. - Oh, I beg of you, say it. Say it again. Repeat it... with that look of conviction... Hold me back... They are pulling me away, they are snatching me from you... Hold me very tight... I am being carried away... Do you hear them? They're calling me, they're bewitching me, they're luring me up there, with them, toward everything that babbles, skips, rolls, sprawls, leaps, nibbles, squanders, bungles, destroys, mocks... toward offhandedness, indifference, flightiness, frivolousness, thoughtlessness... Hold me back, so I won't take this awful old stone animal set there in front of us and throw it with all my might against the wall... Do you too hear that noise upstairs? Come out here, come and see... They open the door, they lean over the bannister... What happened?... They come down... - You see what I did with it? Come and sit down, come here, close up, so we can enjoy ourselves together... let's put on a record by your favourite singer, let's turn on the radio, let's dance...

[Do You Hear Them?, Sarraute, N.]

...of intention

On the UCLA campus at Royce Hall, the printed announcement says that the silent film is to be accompanied on the Wurlitzer by the same man who Vikar heard play years before at the silent-movie theatre on Fairfax. Before the screening begins, someone announces to the crowd that the accompanist will not be playing after all, adding that in fact the film's director always had intended the film to be shown and watched in silence. "This is the first movie I ever saw in Los Angeles," Vikar tells Zazi. Composed entirely in close-ups, the inquisition and execution of Joan as played by Maria Falconetti is all the more unbearable for the quiet; the audience can barely bring itself to applaud afterwards.

[Zeroville, Erickson, S.]