Monday, 18 May 2015

...of a detainee

It was no use. Anyway, he would talk to the woman and try to get her to explain things more precisely. If the situation were clarified, perhaps he could decide on an attack. He could not be without a plan of action. Such a stupid situation was unbearable. But what could he do if she would not answer? That, indeed, would be the most ominous response of all. And there was ample possibility of it. Her stubborn silence! The way she seemed like a defenseless victim, crouching there with her knees drawn up under her!
The sight of her naked back was indecent and animal-like, She looked as though she could be flipped over just by bringing his hand up to her crotch. No sooner had the thought crossed his mind than he caught his breath, ashamed. He had the feeling it would not be long before he would see himself as an executioner, torturing the woman, standing over her sand-spattered buttocks. Yes, eventually it would happen. And in that movement he would lose his right to speak.

[The Woman in the Dunes, Abe, K.]

...of a jailer

Finally she half opened her eyes, seeming to be dazzled by the light. Seizing her shoulders and shaking her, the man spoke rapidly and imploringly.
“Say, the ladder’s gone! Where’s the best place to climb out of here, for heaven’s sake? You can’t get out of a place like this without a ladder.”
She gathered up the towel with a nervous gesture, and with unexpected energy slapped her face with it a two or three times and then, completely turning her back to him, crouched with her knees doubled beneath her and her face to the floor. Was it a bashful movement? This was hardly the place. The man let out a shout as if a dam had given way.
“This is no joking matter! I don’t know what I’ll do if you don’t get that ladder out. I’m in a hurry! Where in God’s name did you hide it? I’ve had enough of your pranks. Give it here. At once!”
But she did not answer. She remained in the same position, simply shaking her head left and right.
He stiffened. His vision blurred, his breathing faltered and almost stopped; he abruptly realised the pointlessness of his questioning. The ladder was of rope. A rope ladder couldn’t stand up by itself. Even if he got his hands on it there was no possibility of setting it up from below - which meant that the woman had not taken it down, but someone else had taken it away from the road above. His unshaven face, smudged with sand, suddenly looked miserable.
The woman’s actions and her silence took on an unexpected and terrible meaning. He refused to believe it, yet in his heart he knew is worse fears had come true. The ladder had probably been removed with her knowledge, and doubtless with her full consent. Unmistakably she was an accomplice. Of course her posture had nothing to do with embarrassment; it was the posture of a sacrificial victim, of a criminal willing to accept any punishment. He had been lured by the beetle into a desert from which there was no escape - like some famished mouse.

[The Woman in the Dunes, Abe, K.]

...of waves

Before he set off for the Arturo Prat Antarctica base on the last leg of his polar voyage, a gala dinner was held in his honour at a restaurant in Punta Arenas. According to the reports, Wieder drank to excess and slapped a naval officer for having failed to treat a lady with due respect. Concerning this lady the reports vary, but they all coincide on one point: she had not been invited by the organisers and none of the other guests knew her; the only plausible explanations for her presence was that she was a gatecrasher or that she had come with Wieder. He referred to her as “my lady” or “my young lady”. She was about twenty-five years old, tall, with dark hair and a shapely figure. At one point in the evening, perhaps during dessert, she shouted at Wieder, You’re going to kill yourself tomorrow, Carlos! An appalling lapse of taste, as everyone agreed. That was when the incident with the sailor occurred. Afterwards there were speeches, and the next day, after three or four hours’ sleep, Weider flew to the South Pole. It was, to say the least, an eventful flight, and on more than one occasion the unidentified woman’s prediction almost came true (none of the guests ever saw her again, incidentally). When he returned to Punta Arenas, Wieder described that the most dangerous thing had been the silence. To the genuine or simulated astonishment of the journalists, he explained that by “silence” he meant the waves of Cape Horn trying to lick the belly of the plane, waves like vast Melvillean whales or severed hands groping at the fuselage throughout the journey, but silently, dumbly, as if in those latitudes sound could only be made by humans. Silence is like leprosy, declared Wieder; silence is like communism; silence is like a blank screen that must be filled. If you fill it, nothing bad can happen to you. If you are pure, nothing bad can happen to you. If you are not afraid, nothing bad can happen to you. According to Bibiano, he was describing an angel. A proudly human angel? I hazarded, quoting Blas de Otero. No, dickhead, replied Bibiano, the angel of our misfortune.

[Distant Star, Bolano, R.]

...of a flat

…The flat was dimly lit. The air was thick with a peculiar odour, as if Ruiz-Tagle had cooked something very pungent the night before, something oily and spicy. For a moment, Bibiano thought he heard a noise in one of the rooms and assumed there was a woman in the flat. He was about to excuse himself and leave when Ruiz-Tagle asked which film he was going to see. Bibiano said a Bergman film, at the Teatro Lautro. Ruiz-Tagle kept wearing that smile of his, which, according to Bibiano was enigmatic, but which always struck me as self-satisfied if not downright arrogant. He excused himself, saying he already had a date with Veronica Garmendia; and anyway, he explained, he didn’t like Bergman’s films. By that stage, Bibiano was sure that that there was someone else in the flat, hiding behind a door and listening to the conversation. He thought it must have been Veronica; otherwise why would Ruiz-Tagle, who was normally so discreet, have mentioned her name? But try as he might, he couldn’t imagine our star poet in that situation. Neither Veronica nor Angelica Garmendia would stoop to eavesdropping. So who was it? Bibiano never found out. Right then, probably the only thing he knew was that he wanted to get out of there, away from Ruiz-Tagle, and never return to that naked, bleeding flat. Those are his words. Although to judge from his description, the flat could not have looked more antiseptic. Clean walls, books lined up on the metal shelves, armchairs covered with Mapuche ponchos, Ruix-Tagle’s Leica sitting on a wooden bench (he brought it to the poetry workshop one afternoon to take photos of us all). The kitchen door was ajar and Bibiano could see in: it looked normal, except that there were no piles of dirty plates, none of the mess you’d expect in the flat of a student who lives on his own (but then Ruiz-Tagle wasn’t a student). In short, nothing out of the ordinary, except for the noise, which could easily have come from the flat next door. While Ruiz-Tagle was talking, Bibiano had the distinct impression that his host didn’t want him to leave and was prolonging the conversation precisely to keep him there. Although there was no objective basis for this impression, it contributed to my friend’s nervous agitation, which soon reached a degree he described as intolerable. The strange thing is that Ruiz-Tagle seemed to be enjoying himself: he could see Bibiano growing paler and sweating more profusely, yet he went on talking (about Bergman, presumably), smiling all the while. Rather than breaking the close silence of the flat, his words accentuated it.

[Distant Star, Bolano, R.]

...of infinite leisure

Knowing no one in Prague, I asked a friend, a historian who specialised in the Iron Curtain countries, if there was anyone he’d recommend me to see.
He replied that Prague was still the most mysterious of European cities, where the supernatural was always a possibility. The Czechs’ propensity to ‘bend’ before superior force was not necessarily a weakness. Rather, their metaphysical view of life encouraged them to look on acts of force as ephemera.
‘Of course,’ he said, ‘ I could send you to any number of intellectuals. Poets, painters, film-makers.’ Providing I could face an interminable whine about the role of the artist in a totalitarian state, or wished to go to a party that would end in a partouse.
I protested. Surely he was exaggerating?
‘No,’ he shook his head, ‘I don’t think so.’
He would be the last to denigrate a man who risked the labour camp for publishing a poem in a foreign journal. But in his view, the true heroes of this impossible situation were people who wouldn’t raise a murmur against the Party or State - yet who seemed to carry the sum of Western Civilisation in their heads.
‘With their silence,’ he said, ‘they inflict a final insult on the State, by pretending that it does not exist.’
Where else would one find, as he had, a tram-ticket salesman who was a scholar of the Elizabethan stage? Or a street-sweeper who had written a philosophical commentary on the Anaximander Fragment?
He finished by observing that Marx’s vision of an age of infinite leisure had in one sense, come true. The State, in its efforts to wipe out ‘traces of individualism’, offered limitless time for the intelligent individual to dream his private and heretical thoughts.

[Utz, Chatwin, B.]

...of deception

We look bad, whatever we do.
Wait a minute. The term isn’t over yet. How many are enrolled?
Four. The dean seemed flustered.
Four? Is that all? Four. Palfrey shook his wattles. I was told the course would draw dozens.
It did a bit better at the beginning.
In that case, just wait until the semester ends and tell him you have to close down the class because of too few funds, Miss Hazlet said. She seemed quite sure of herself. He won’t know he’s been found out; he’s not likely to complain; nothing scandalous has occurred; no breach of our hiring rules has been broken; the fat caucus can’t complain. A lack of students… a lack of students is a legitimate excuse. Even a tenured person can be got rid of without fuss if you eliminate their subject. And there won’t be any story.
I don’t know, Joey heard himself saying, despite his silent vow. I think we should throw the book at him, set an example, use this bad situation to reaffirm our principles, and advertise them. This guy took advantage of our goodwill - society’s, too. Who knows what guff he has been stuffing in the students’s ears. He probably doesn’t know where Ames is.
Well, there is something in what you say… Palfrey paused. [……]
Whittlebauer exposes a mountebank. That doesn’t make for an embarrassing story.
It’s still pretty hard to explain.
It might hurt his furniture business.
I was hoping he would be of assistance with our town/gown relations. And there are members of our board who thought we ought to have geography. Palfrey released an unhealthy sigh.
What kind of documents did the man profess to have? It might be worth taking a look at his application.
Skizzen believed that Smullion knew exactly what he was suggesting.
No need, no time, for that. It was, I assure you, in apple-pie order. Palfrey put his palm down on the papers before him. His entire weight assisted in the gesture. It fairly flattened his cup.
Who cares about his furniture business? Would you want to buy a sofa from a guy who pretended to have approval from… what was it?… Ames? There Skizzen was, participating again, inviting scrutiny. He tried to chastise himself but even the spears of fear that struck him intermittently did the trick. Like… like Saint… Saint Sebastian… A vow of silence, made silently, is not worth a librarian’s psst. Could this be the trial of someone else?

[Middle C, Gass, W. H.]

...of a rest

Did not Odysseus strive to reach his wife kid dog and palace - you remember him? ah many of your hands need washing, I can see - too few pink palms… through countless trials and tribulations, too, remember the delays, the teases - Sirens, enchanters, giants lurking - one two three ten twelve thirty troubles, trials, tribulations, did I say? - lures of ladies, comforts of creatures - in wait like rocks - to bring the wayfarer down, to sink his soul to his sandals. So, too, we depart from the tonic, we journey farther and farther afield - yes, we digress - until it seems we’ve broken all ties with the known world, we are farther away than anyone has ever been, we are at the edge of the earth, we can forhear… forehear the Wagnerian downfall, we stand at the brink… the brink that splashes into silence… when… lo, behold… magically… the captain, the composer, sees a way, steers us through the storm, and we modulate, do we not? sail ride walk to the warm and welcoming hearth again, the hiking path winds but takes us to our hotel in safety just as the signs said they would: what relief at what a climax… the sight of a spire, familiar stones at one’s feet, the smell of a pot on the stove. Nice walk, good hike, healthy return.
Poor Miss Rudolph. Glad you’re back. Nice of you to cough in the hall. No music there.
Or shall we let a cough be music? music made of cough and sniffle? chance and error? the music of the blown nose, the phone call, the unwrapper’s annoying rattle? With our new instruments of bedvilment might we not record all sorts of sounds out there in the world that calls itself - that calls themselves - real; where squeaks and squeals and screams are on the menu, where dins assails us by the dozens - the crinkle of cellophane, whishiss of small talk, the fanning of five hundred programs - where we fill our ears with one noise in order not to hear another… yes, record, preserve not only the roil of the sea but the oink of pigs and moos of cattle, the wind rattling the cornstalks like the hand of an enemy on the knob, and put them in… in the realm of majesty, of beauty, of purity, in… in music, let them in - poor Miss Rudolph’s cough included - why? - why would we come to such a detrimental thought? or why should we learn to sigh at silence as if it were a sweet in the mouth, as if it were a pillow soft as a sofa, why should we order our instruments off! as if silence were an end? Only to invite the ruckus - of which we are the ruck - to rumpus us, to ruin our holy space?
Just then we had a silence, did you hear? a rest. Broken like a pane of glass by… explanations.

[Middle C, Gass, W. H.]

...of the Gods

There will be no Judgement Day until we undertake to celebrate it. There was a why for Jews, of course: what had their people done to breach the Covenant so utterly and so reprehensibly as to deserve annihilation? There was also a why to trouble Christians unless they could forget that German Catholics and German Lutherans had murdered all those German Jews; unless they could somehow reconcile God’s bloodlust with their own thirst by viewing the Almighty’s malevolence as carte blanche to give heretics and Christ killers what they surely deserved - a punishment long in coming and therefore most acceptable. There should be a similar why put to the followers of Islam about Allah, the One and Only God, because to single out Jews to exterminate, as he obviously had, particularly Polish and German ones among countless equally deserving Spanish, Russian, or American specimens, not to mention oodles of additional infidels of all sorts, is… well… odd… Was Allah merely miming the Christian God Almighty, already an epic anti-Semite? The consequences were especially unexpected because the remnants wound up unwanted on the doorstep of the Palestinians - not, one would think, a result in Allah’s plans. No one has seemed similarly concerned that Joseph Stalin murdered many more millions than Adolf Hitler (Professor Skizzen had ample documentation stuck to flypaper in the south dormers). He had finally decided that the reason for this (apart from left-wing reluctance and unremitting Jewish propaganda) was the absence of any organised state campaign against a specific racial target. In any case, what were all these deities - G-d, Jehovah, and Allah - allegedly up to while their minions were slaying even one soul not to say massacring so many? because they were all responsible, weren’t they (those Gods, that is, that existed)? since their power and and their wisdom were such decided particularities of their nature like our height and brain size; they were the culprits, surely, weren’t they? these Notables of the Sky? if not for turning on the gas directly, at least for closing their ears to the hiss, turning their backs on the passing trains, washing their hands lest they be stained, taking a snooze through repeated beatings… yes, every one of those Gods… silent bystanders to innumerable shooting parties held till the bodies of the dead lay in heaps like potatoes, and all that human consciousness, all that awareness - in each victim the very candle of the Lord, it was always said, the very Light asked for at creation - was snuffed… ah yes… snuffed… snuffed… - so that’s what the smoke was.

[Middle C, Gass, W. H.]

...of inexperience

Had he fallen anyway? There were some who wondered about that, Joey began to receive stares, and he felt he might be the subject of unseemly gossip. Perhaps it was his guilty conscience - a condition that exasperated him further because he believed he had done nothing wrong but bolt like a scaredy. He searched his heart for hidden longings and found none. An inventory of his daydreams came up empty. A minor social gaffe should count for nothing, no more than dandruff on the shoulder of a dark suit, and the momentary embarrassment he had suffered should suffice for punishment.
He was, however, haunted by the concerto he hadn’t heard. Poking about in a few books turned up nothing by the name “concerto” and nothing that might resemble something written for a band instrument whose social status in the world of instruments stood only a few notes above the saxophone. Had he been conned by Madame, lured into her pillow parlor on altogether false pretenses? In class (classes he now prepared for with sweaty desperation) she was as coolly indifferent as he was, carrying on with the other students in her usual loud and quirky manner, while he continued to ignore his classmates entirely, perhaps maintaining a distance that was more carefully policed, and an atmosphere more densely anxious, than usual.
What he had done, of course, was embarrass Madame M, and Joey was not wholly convinced that she had it coming; perhaps she had been an innocent, too, extending her hospitality to a student, willing to take some of her private time to expand his musical world, only to be rebuffed by his childish flight, and rudely, too, without so much as a lame excuse. Certainly he could not put a word to what he feared was about to happen when he weighed himself upon a pile of pillows beside her, had he done so; nor could he confide the affair to his mother, who might have a description in two languages readily at hand and a willingness to redden his ears with her recital. If his skills in most things were rudimentary, and his knowledge of facts and theories spotty, his acquaintance with such a sordid world was indirect, dim, and skimpy. He had no lengthy register of quirks, for instance, to which he might turn, a catalog of eccentricities in which he might find Joseph Skizzen’s reluctance to reveal himself listed alongside men who wore corsets under their suits or women who rolled down mountains of pillows… while smoking… the forbidden weed. With a groan he curtailed his imagination lest he begin to see Madame’s breasts blend into the pile.
[Middle C, Gass, W. H.]

...of evasion

Your father didn’t smoke, Joey, he was a good man in his habits, he didn’t overdrink either, or pinch bottoms.
He gambled.
Oh, that was a shock, when they told me, because he never bet even on a fight among roosters.
Well, he bet on the ponies one time, Mother - and won - it must have felt as though he’d been touched by the gods.
He never said a word, he never showed me a happy face, all that time while he must have been waiting for his forgers to forge a passport for him, steal a vehicle permit, make a birth avowal - whatever it was, his money, his winnings - what do they say? - burning as hole in his socks, he never let on to anybody that he’d bet or, having bet, that he’d won, or having won that he was going to leave us like we were not people but a place, like Graz, an embarrassment to him - old ways, old folks, old days - those of us he’d said he loved and held tight in a dark Tube - a cellar that shook as if it were solid but not solid enough - a piece of us broke off like shaken brick - he wasn’t solid enough - he divided himself from his family and sailed away as if we were the shore and he a so-long ship.
We can’t be sure of that, though, Mother.
I should have known, I should have known, because Rudi changed; he, who was soft like a patch of moss, grew hard and harsh as bark; he’d glare at me full of rage all up in his face; not that he ever hit me, but where a smile once went the boils of a pot were; and there was anger also in his throat, his eyes; his eyes never brimmed anymore or went wide to take things in; his silence scared me into silence, too; I couldn’t say a clear word.

[Middle C, Gass, W. H.]

...of offence

Miriam, whom Joey Skizzen thought of as his mother, Nita, began to speak about the family’s past, but only after she decided that her husband was safely in his grave. His frowns could silence her in midsentence; even his smiles were curved in condescension, though at this time in his absence, her beloved husband’s virtues, once admitted to be many, were written in lemon juice. He had a glare to bubble paint, she said. Her recollection of that look caused hesitations still. She would appear alarmed, wave as if she saw something gnatting her face, and stutter to a stop. Joey was helped to remember how, at suppertime, for only then was the family gathered as a group, the spoon would become still in his father’s soup, his father’s head would rise to face the direction of the offending remark, his normally placid look would stiffen, and fires light in his eyes. His stare seemed unwilling to cease, although it probably was never held beyond the lifetime of a minute. But a minute… a minute is so long. Certainly it continued until his daughter’s or his wife’s uneasy expression sank into the bottom of her bowl, and the guilty head was bowed in an attitude of apology and submission.

[Middle C, Gass, W. H.]