Tuesday, 30 December 2014

...of awkwardness

...Everything she said, as we walked towards the cafe, sounded as though it was spoken by someone on the verge of madness. Hardly had we sat down on the terrace than I became aware of how embarrassing the situation was, and I no longer knew how to react. The little Canellas girl was no help at all: she had understood nothing of what had just taken place and simply gazed out of the window. I didn't understand her behaviour, since it was obvious what kind of person was sitting with us at the table, someone in the grip of the most terrible despair. But to the young Canellas girl, who, like all Spanish women, was unused to finding herself suddenly sitting at a table with a stranger, the whole situation was embarrassing. I felt ashamed, unable to say a word, searching for words but not finding a single one, and reproaching myself for having perhaps forced someone, in a positively brutal manner, into doing something she didn't want to do: the young woman perhaps didn't want to sit drinking coffee at the same table with either me or the Canellas girl, neither of whom could in the least concern her, just because she had been compelled to do so by my invitation, delivered in a tone which, if not callous, had at least been far from sensitive. I was ashamed and unable to start a single conversation, even to utter a single word, let alone to take up anything the young woman had already said in her extreme despair and confusion. That's just how somebody sits who has been compelled to do so, I thought. The young Canellas girl must have felt as I did, because for a while she didn't look once in my direction. But my sense of shame gave me no chance of escaping from the situation I had created...

[Concrete, Bernhard, T.]

...of self-analysis

...I was just such an old person who was already more dead than alive. I must have made a pitiful, indeed pitiable impression on an observer, though there was none - unless I'm going to say that I am an observer of myself, which is stupid, since I am my own observer anyway: I've actually been observing myself for years, if not for decades; my life now consists only of self-observation and self-contemplation, which naturally leads to self-condemnation, self-abnegation and self-mockery, in which ultimately I always have to take refuge in order to save myself. But all the time I ask myself what I have to save myself from. Is what I constantly wish to save myself from really as bad as all that? No, it isn't, I told myself, and immediately resumed my self-observation, self-calumniation and self-mockery. All I want to do is to prolong my present state, which leads directly out of the world, I thought, though I dared not actually say it to myself. I'm playing with this state, and I'll go on playing with it as long as I please. As long as I please, I now said to myself, and I listened, but couldn't hear anything...

[Concrete, Bernhard, T.]

...of a stratagem

...Absolutely everything about her is natural - everything she does, everything she says, as well as everything she doesn't say, everything she keeps to herself. One might think there was no more natural person in the world. It's as though she didn't have to give a single thought to anything. But equally naturally that is mistaken. I know how much calculation goes into everything she undertakes, how carefully everything is concocted before she finally dishes it up in front of all these people. In the most natural way in the world she constantly gives them to understand - though of course it isn't true for a moment - that she has read, if not everything, then at any rate most things, that she has met and is well acquainted, if not with all, then at any rate with most of the important and famous people who matter. And all this she gives them to understand without actually saying anything of the sort. Although she knows nothing about music and hasn't even a superficial understanding of it, everybody believes she knows a great deal about music. And the same goes for literature, even philosophy. Where others have to make a continual effort to keep up, she doesn't need to worry about a thing: everything comes to her at will, quite automatically. Naturally she is educated, in a manner of speaking, but only superficially. Naturally she knows a lot, more than most of the people she associates with, but her knowledge is of the most superficial kind, and yet nobody notices this. Where others constantly have to convince you in order not to be defeated and collapse and make themselves ridiculous, she remains silent and invariably scores a triumph, or else she makes some perfectly timed remark, from which it follows that she is in control of the whole scene. I have never seen my sister worsted. She, on the other hand, has often seen me come to grief over some ludicrous point. Two more different, more contrasting characters it would be impossible to imagine. This is probably the source of the tension between us. I have money and never talk about it, she once said, you have philosophy and never talk about it. This observation demonstrates where we both stand, and possibly also, I fear, where we have come to a standstill...

[Concrete, Bernhard, T.]

...of procrastination

...If I go and start now I might be successful, I told myself, but I hadn't the courage to go to the desk. The intention was there, but I hadn't the strength, either the physical or mental strength. I stood looking at the desk through the doorway, wondering when would be the right moment to go up to it, sit down and begin work. I listened, but I heard nothing. Although my house is surrounded by my neighbours' houses, there was not a sound to be heard. It was as though at this moment everything was dead. I suddenly found this state of affairs pleasant and tried to make it last as long as possible. I was able to make it last for several minutes and to enjoy the idea, the certainty, that everything around me was dead. Then, suddenly, I said to myself, Go to your desk, sit down, and write the first sentence of your study. Not cautiously, but decisively! But I hadn't the strength. I stood there, hardly daring to breathe. If I sit down, they'll at once be some interruption, some unforeseen incident. They'll be a knock at the door, or a neighbour will call out, or the postman will ask for my signature. You must quite simply sit down and begin. Without thinking about it, as if you were asleep, you must get the first sentence down on paper, and so on...

[Concrete, Bernhard, T.]

Sunday, 28 December 2014

...of a snub

Now, baths and washing are one of Lolo's favourite topics, and Lola rated them even more highly, indeed she liked talking about them almost as much as she liked talking about her 'mama', and on the way here she had already made such statements as 'I wouldn't be able to live without a shower', and 'I don't know how anyone can live in a town without having two baths a day', and 'my mama puts lemon juice in her bath' and 'my mama goes to Karlsbad every year'. So, when Fuchs mentioned the subject, it immediately set Lola loloing. She said that if she were in the Sahara she would use her last glass of water to wash, 'because water for washing is more important than water for drinking, and wouldn't you do the same, Lolo?' etc. In the midst of all this chatter she must have noticed, as I did, that the word 'bath' was unpleasantly related to Jadeczka. Not that Jadeczka was not clean. But she had a special kind of self-centredness that reminded me of Fuch's statement on another occasion that 'one is what one is.' In relationship to her own body, she behaved as if (like certain smells) it were tolerable only to its owner, and consequently she created the impression of being a person uninterested in baths. Lola, after sticking out her little nose and behaving as if she could sniff something from that quarter, continued harping on the theme. 'If I miss my bath for any reason, I feel ill,' etc., etc., she said, and Lolo followed suit, and so did Leo, Fuchs, Louis, and Lena, as is usual in such circumstances, in order not to be suspected of indifference in relation to water. Jadeczka and Tolo, however, remained silent.
The result of this talkativeness on the one hand and the silence on the other was a tacit implication that Jadeczka did not take baths. Hence the feeling that 'one is what one is.'
There was a whiff coming from her direction, not a physical smell, but the whiff of an unpleasing personality; and Lola, backed up by Lolo, with the most innocent air in the world, was like a bloodhound on the trail. Jadeczka, however, behaved exactly as before, that is, she remained silent and did not take part - except that her withdrawal into herself now became associated with insufficient familiarity with water; and Tolo's silence was even worse, because he was obviously a perfect swimmer and was in his element in water, so why not open his mouth? Did he not want to leave her alone in her silence?

[Cosmos, Gombrowicz, W.]

...of a newly-wedded wife

But neither Lolo nor Lola would have been so startled, or would have had to make such efforts to suppress their giggles, if her husband had not been such a handsome, rakish-looking man with that little moustache of his. No one who saw them together could help wondering why he had married her. The answer (whispered to me with a suppressed giggle by Lola) was that she was the daughter of a rich industrialist, which of course provided further ammunition for wagging tongues. Nor was this the end of the story, indeed it was only the beginning, for (as was also evident at first sight) they had no illusions about the impression they made, and tried to counter human malice with nothing but the purity of their intentions and their perfect right to do as they pleased. Have I not a perfect right to him? she seemed to say. Of course I have. I know he is good-looking and I am not, but have I not a perfect right to be in love with him? Of course I have, and you cannot forbid me to be in love with him, for it is my unassailable human right. I love him, and my love is pure and beautiful, there is no reason why I should be bashful about it, and look, I am not. Isolated from the rest of the party and not taking part in the general hilarity, she watched over this feeling as over a treasure, concentrated and silent, her eyes fixed on her husband or lost in contemplation of the green beauty of the meadows outside the window, and from time to time her bosom heaved with a sigh that was almost a prayer. And, as was her perfect right, every now and then she quietly said something like 'Tolo', with that mouth of hers that belonged to herself alone.

[Cosmos, Gombrowicz, W.]

...of a view

Mountains which had long since been approaching were suddenly on top of us, we entered a valley where it was deliciously shady, though the foliage on the upper slopes was still bathed in sunlight. We plunged into a quiet that came from everywhere and nowhere, a delightful river of coolness. We turned a corner, and came to towering walls and pinnacles, contorted piles of rock and deep chasms, peaceful rounded eminences, summits or peaks, craggy crests and vertical precipices to which the bushes clung, then rocks on the heights and below them meadows descending into silence, an incomprehensible, motionless, universal silence, such a powerful silence that the noise of our minute, advancing carriage seemed to exist quite apart from it. This landscape continued for some time, and then a new element imposed itself, a nude or chaotic or shining, sometimes heroic, element, made up of chasms and abysses, solid rock, variations on the theme of overhanging cliffs, ascending and descending rhythms of trees and vegetation, wounds and scars and landslides; idylls floated toward us, sometimes soft and gentle and sometimes hard and crystalline. There were all sorts of different things - marvellous distances, enchanting convolutions, space captured and stretched, aggressive or yielding space, space twisting or bending, striking up or down. Gigantic, motionless movement.

[Cosmos, Gombrowicz, W.]

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

...of abdication

There came a moment when the craze seemed to have reached its peak. Inconvenience is a powerful enemy that even violence has to reckon with, and the disturbances, thrilling as they were, were also highly inconvenient to many. In certain quarters there was a shaking of heads, and a shrugging of shoulders; would these demonstrations, the most picturesque and exciting the New State had ever known, end in boredom? Or in a laugh that turned against itself?
In this almost imperceptible lull people began to ask themselves: 'What has happened to the Dictator? Why doesn't he make some comment on all this? It isn't going to be easy for him, of course; how will he explain this breakdown in his theories? His policy, he has always told us, was to make violence impossible: hence the daily dose of bromide, the dancing, the sackcloth, everything. He has been made to look a fool, of course; all his theories have been proved wrong; we have given up taking bromide, or wearing sackcloth, we only dance when we think we will; we have done everything he told us not to, and yet here we still are, flourishing and enjoying ourselves: but it would be fun to know what he has to say about it. I suppose he is too frightened to say anything. But he ought to say something, or what is a Dictator for? Where is that voice we used to hear, in and out of season? Why this silence? How long has it been going on for? A week, a fortnight, a month? It's all very well, but a Dictator has his duties, just like other people. He ought to give us a lead. All these years he has been making us dependent on him, and then when we want his advice - no, not his advice, we've had too much of that, but his opinion - he doesn't say a word! If he would just tell us what he thought about this birthmark baiting, or beating, so that we could do the opposite - or even do what he told us - it wouldn't be the first time! It isn't fair that he leaves us to ourselves! We've been very good subjects; not many people would have put up with what we've put up with! He ought not to neglect his business so! If he was one of us, he'd have been fined for it, or made to wear P. S.! It isn't fair! He's always down on privilege, yet no one is so privileged as he is!' and much more in this strain.

[Facial Justice, Hartley, L. P.]

...of hostility

A day or two passed and nothing happened. The craze for mistake-making went on unchecked. On the whole it was good-tempered, for few escaped the attentions of the practical jokers, and those who had suffered made others suffer in their turn, so there was no feeling of unfairness. And then the pastime seemed to lose its hold; the fun went out of it and instead of laughter pealing through the streets, an ominous silence fell. Men eyed each other with suspicion and hostility. The man so scrutinised would give himself a quick look, wondering if something was amiss with his appearance, or, if he guessed what was in the other's mind, give him a look as straight and hostile as his own. And this went on for several days, the tension growing until at last someone - nobody ever knew who - stopped a man and challenged him.

[Facial Justice, Hartley, L. P.]

...of an interlocutor

Surprised that she could speak freely to him him, for hitherto he had imposed himself on her so much that her thoughts could only follow a certain track with him - a lane of light with darkness on both sides - she added, feigning gaiety:
'But it's only temporary, my seriousness! I shall go back to being like I was, I hope, if that doesn't sound too conceited! I've won my battle, whatever it was, and I've been punished - at least,' she laughed, 'an old welfare-worker who sometimes comes nosing around here told me I had.'
Jael gave the Inspector a questioning look, for he must know better than the Visitor what her fate was going to be; but he made no comment.
'So having made my sort of protest, which I felt duty bound to make, both for myself and others, I shall forget about it, and be as carefree as I used to be, for I'm not a natural rebel and people with a grievance are so unattractive, aren't they? - you must know that better than anyone, since its your job to keep us all in order.'
Jael felt very happy saying all this to the Inspector, which she had long had it in her mind to say, and the wireless was making such a din, cooing, crooning and sighing, that there was no danger of being overheard. Nor much of being seen; for each patient had a television screen at the end of her bed, and what happened on it was to her more real than what was happening in the ward. She wasn't too much discouraged by Michael's silence, but she began to feel that she had held the floor too long, and said more diffidently:
'What I meant was, that I may seem different to - to talk to, but I'm just the same underneath.'

[Facial Justice, Hartley, L. P.]

...of emancipation

Thrown into a panic, the Government immediately took repressive measures. This time neither pretty gentlemen nor kiddykuddlers were spared; their ranks were decimated, the victims chosen by lot. The reign of terror recalled the worst moments of the war. By no means all the deaths were caused by Government action; the two parties inflicted wholesale massacres on each other, and many men with no particular political convictions took advantage of the general disorder to go about wounding and murdering. Still the voice fluted on: its demand for fresh air and sunlight could be heard above the rattle of machine-guns and the volleys of firing squads. The Government retired to their most secret bomb-proof, gas-proof, ray-proof, germ-proof shelter, and there it was that they ordered the Slaughter of the Innocents which brought the dispensation to an end.
For hardly had the shots rung out and the toddlers toppled over than the second child appeared. No shouts of laughter greeted him, only aghast faces and a horrified, despairing silence. He said nothing, but beckoned and slowly walked away; and by ones and twos people began to move. Nobody tried to stop them as they passed down long corridors, and when they came to the mouth of the cave the guards stood up and saluted them. So they went out into the daylight, about a million in all, half the population of the English Underworld.

[Facial Justice, Hartley, L. P.]

...of waste

The city of Leonia refashions itself every day: every morning the people wake between fresh sheets, wash with just-unwrapped cakes of soap, wear brand-new clothing, take from the latest model refrigerator still unopened tins, listening to the last-minute jingles from the most up-to-date radio.
On the sidewalks, encased in spotless plastic bags, the remains of yesterday's Leonia await the garbage truck. Not only squeezed tubes of toothpaste, blown-out light bulbs, newspapers, containers, wrappings, but also boilers, encyclopaedias, pianos, porcelain dinner services. It is not so much by the things that each day are manufactured, sold, bought that you can measure Leonia's opulence, but rather by the things that each day are thrown out to make room for new and different things, and not, instead, the joy of expelling, discarding, cleansing itself of a recurrent impurity. The fact is that street cleaners are welcomed like angels, and their task of removing the residue of yesterday's existence is surrounded by a respectful silence, like a ritual that inspires devotion, perhaps only because once things have been cast off nobody wants to have to think about them further.

[Invisible Cities, Calvino, I.]

...of a commentary

As time went by, words began to replace objects and gestures in Marco's tales: first exclamations, isolated nouns, dry verbs, then phrases, ramified and leafy discourses, metaphors and tropes. The foreigner had learned to speak the emperor's language or the emperor to understand the language of the foreigner.
But you would have said communication between them was less happy than in the past: to be sure, words were more useful than objects and gestures in listing the most important things of every province and city - monuments, markets, costumes, fauna and flora - and yet when Polo began to talk about how life must be in those places, day after day, evening after evening, words failed him, and little by little, he went back to relying on gestures, grimaces, glances.
So, for each city, after the fundamental information given in precise words, he followed with a mute commentary, holding up his hands, palms out, or backs, or sideways, in straight or oblique movements, spasmodic or slow. A new kind of dialogue was established: the Great Khan's white hands, heavy with rings, answered with stately movements the sinewy, agile hands of the merchant. As an understanding grew between them, their hands began to assume fixed attitudes, each of which corresponded to a shift of mood, in their alternation and repetition. And as the vocabulary of things was renewed with new samples of merchandise, the repertory of mute comment tended to become closed, stable. The pleasure of falling back on it also diminished in both; in their conversations, most of the time, they remained silent and immobile.

[Invisible Cities, Calvino, I.]

...of an answer

The Venetian knew that when Kublai became vexed with him, the emperor wanted to follow more clearly a private train of thought; so Marco's answers and objections took their place in a discourse already proceeding on its own, in the Great Khan's head. That is to say, between the two of them it did not matter whether questions and solutions were uttered aloud or whether each of the two went on pondering in silence. In fact, they were silent, their eyes half-closed, reclining on cushions, swaying in hammocks, smoking long amber pipes.
Marco Polo imagined answering (or Kublai Khan imagined his answer) that the more one was lost in unfamiliar quarters of distant cities, the more one understood the other cities he had crossed to arrive there; and he retraced the stages of his journeys, and he came to know the port from which he had set sail, and the familiar places of his youth, and the surroundings of home, and a little square of Venice where he gambled as a child.

[Invisible Cities, Calvino, I.]

...of a clinic

In came the old surgeon, whom Sambikin was to assist. The old man was ready, and he beckoned to his assistant. Sambikin was not yet allowed to operate on his own; he was twenty-seven years old and this was only the second year of working as an assistant surgeon.
All the sounds in the surgical clinic were scrupulously annihilated, and communication was now effected through coloured light. Three lamps of different colours lit up in the room of the doctor on duty, and a number of actions were then performed almost noiselessly: a low trolley moved on rubber wheels down the cork floor of the corridor and took the patient away to the operating theatre; the electrician switched the electrical light over to the institute's own storage batteries, so that light would not depend upon the chances of the city grid, and then turned on a machine that pumped ozone-enriched air into the theatre; the theatre door opened without a sound, and a cool, fragrant breeze blew from a special apparatus into the sick child's face. This brought the boy sedation and he smiled, freed from the last traces of suffering.

[Happy Moscow, Platonov, A. P.]

...of a name

Her father died from typhoid; the hungry, orphaned girl went out of the house and never went back there again. Remembering neither people nor space, her soul gone to sleep, for several years she walked and ate up and down her motherland, as if in an emptiness, until she came to herself in a children's home and at school. She was sitting at a desk by a window, in the city of Moscow. The trees on the boulevard had stopped growing; leaves were falling from them without any wind, covering the now silent earth for its long sleep to come. It was the end of September, and the year when wars all ended and the transport system began to function again.
Moscow Chestnova had been in the children's home for two years. It was here she had been given a name, a surname, and even a patronymic, since the little girl remembered her own name and early childhood only very indefinitely. She thought her father had called her Olya, but she had not been sure of this and had kept silent, like someone nameless, like that nighttime man who had perished. So she had been given a first name in honour of Moscow; a patronymic in memory of Ivan, an ordinary Red Army soldier who had fallen in battle; and a surname in recognition of the honesty of her heart - which had not had time to become dishonest, in spite of long unhappiness.

[Happy Moscow, Platonov, A. P.]

Monday, 22 December 2014

...of the deafened

...He looked at the sky, but not a single dove was visible, even in the far distance. It felt as though he was saying 'Oh God!' as he stamped his foot on the ground, but he couldn't hear his own voice. Raising his voice, perhaps, he shouted: 'Oh God! What should I do? What must I do?' Again, he could not hear his own voice. He pressed his hands to his ears and bellowed the same words, with exactly the same result. He took his hands away and looked at his palms. His hands were partially covered with lumps of black and clotted blood ... he screamed and screamed and screamed, and in the silence of his screaming he did not realise he was running in the desert, until... again he was standing by the head of that young man, his captive, whose life, in all probability, was slowly ebbing  away from him. He stamped his feet on the ground to make the prisoner listen to him: can you hear my voice? I know you're in a bad way, but tell me that you can hear my voice. Well, can you? You... sound... voice... hear? Or has my voice flown up to the sky with those doves? Blood... check that no blood is dripping from my throat... Or from my ears? Open your eyes. He told me that some doves, when they come to roost on the roof of their home loft, shed a drop of blood from their throat. That calms them, apparently, so that they can fly on right through the night until daybreak. I haven't been besmeled to become like that. Get up and talk to me! In whatever language you know. Just talk! I want to hear your voice. And tell me that you can hear mine! Can't you? Get up, otherwise what's to become of us in this endless desert?...

[Thirst, Dowlatabadi, M.]

...of shell-shock

Yes... somewhere, at some spot here on planet Earth, a shell is propelled out of the muzzle of a heavy weapon. A leaden shell, heavy and destructive. We don't know the exact circumstances, and perhaps the person who orders a firing button to be pressed doesn't know either. Maybe a switch is flicked up or down instead. How can we know? All we are interested in is what happened afterwards and who was responsible for causing these clouds of smoke and fire to rise up above a pass, a ravine, a chasm - in any event a target that did not appear to be an ammunition dump. What was this disaster that was unfolding before the eyes of a young man who had forgotten his own name, and his birthplace as well - who had just a random name, a meaningless word on his tongue, but who otherwise was completely mute, or rather dumb? Dumb and afflicted with instant loss of memory. Now his body felt racked with fatigue and aches, and his eyelids were heavy, weighed down by a thick layer of something whose colour he did not recognise, but which he imagined must be that of tar or - less dark - of smoke. He had been hurled into the depths of the trench, and each explosion had reverberated against an earthen wall whose surface was studded with stones and pebbles. He understands nothing now except that the world has been engulfed in such a ghastly silence that when he reflects upon it for a while, it appears to him more dreadful than the hell that went before. How much time had elapsed since it happened? Thousands of years or just a fleeting moment?

[Thirst, Dowlatabadi, M.]

...of the 'truth'

'So many questions, Mr Katib; and I've no wish to break your heart, or God forbid, disrespect you in any way. The story follows two district paths from here on in: what really happened, which you'd be well advised not to enquire about; and what I've already explained to you, at least in part, the rest of which I'm going to tell you now. Take a look at this photograph. It's of the victim. Neat and clean, with a shaven head and a tidy beard. He has been murdered in the prime of his life. I've put his turbah and prayer beads on his chest in this photo. As you can see for yourself! Now, I feel sure you're going to ask me how a prisoner can be so plump and hearty? I will tell you as much as I can - please don't press me further - but he was given an officer's ration. He was chosen as the prefect of his prison wing, so on the night of the murder, like any other night, he knew he didn't have to shave his beard, dry or...'
'Or with his face wet with urine from the buckets, in order to shave with one of the two dull razors!'
'Your attention to detail is beginning to intrigue me. Very well, I will pretend not to have heard what you are implying but merely add that the murdered man had permission from the prison camp to - if required - lead communal prayers and arrange certain ceremonies. Look, I don't have to tell you this, but I will anyway - you should know, in confidence, that the only way anyone listened to what he had to say was through coercion.'
'I see!'
'And what exactly is it that you see?'
'The truth of the story.'
'Just hang on a minute... I trusted you and explained a few facts to you in confidence. You know well enough that divulging military secrets in time of war is a serious offence. So, get this into your head: the 'truth of the story' is whatever the prison camp office chooses to tell journalists, authors, the Red Cross or any other busybody! And you, my friend, should just listen to the truth I'm impressing on you and take a good look at the face in this photo. Even after suffocation it's still recognisable. There's a short pamphlet written in his own hand, as well. I hope you don't suspect us of having any hand in writing it, or of imposing our view in it - no way! He was trying to pass it off as some sort of religious tract. We have a sample of his handwriting in our archives. We didn't prevent it from being written and we provided him with pen and paper, a standard procedure under human rights law. Go on - read it for yourself. Have a good look at this little pamphlet. You have my permission. Go ahead and read it at your leisure! The president would like the main points of this pamphlet to be mentioned in your article. We attach the utmost importance to it, since it alone will provide damning evidence against our enemy. What do you think of it?'

[Thirst, Dowlatabadi, M.]

...of the void

Alas, eternity rises before us and we are afraid of it - afraid of that thing which must last for such a long time, we who last for so little.
For such a long time!
Doubtless when the world no longer exists (how I would like to be alive then - living without nature or men - what grandeur in that void!), doubtless there will be darkness then - a little burnt ash which will have been the earth and perhaps a few drops of water - the sea.
Heavens! Nothing more - emptiness - only the void spread out across the vast expanse like a shroud!
Eternity, eternity! Will it last for ever?... for ever, without end?
And yet what remains, the smallest scrap of the world's debris, the last breath of dying creation, the void itself, will necessarily be weary of existing. Everything will call for total destruction.
This idea of something without end makes us grow pale. - Alas! and we will be put in it, all of us now living - and this immensity will sweep us along.
What will we be? A nothing - not even a breath of air.
I have long thought of the dead in their coffins, the protracted centuries they spend like that under the earth filled with rumours and cries, and they so calm, in their rotten wooden boxes, their gloomy silence interrupted, at times, either by hair falling, or by a worm slithering by, over a shred of flesh. How they sleep there, lying silent - under the earth - under the flowering turf!
And yet, at wintertime, they must be cold under the snow.

[Memoirs of a Madman, Flaubert, G.]