Sunday, 30 August 2015

...of predator and prey

Mrs. Mean.
She waits, motionless. The clusters come, one drifting near. Her arm flies out. Her fingers snap. The boll disappears in the beak of her hand. The prize is stuffed in her sack. Mrs. Mean is motionless again though the sack shakes. I am reminded of lizards on rocks, my wife of meat-eating plants. Mrs. Mean’s patience here is inexhaustible, her skill astonishing, her devotion absolute. The children are gone. Their shouts make no impression on her. Mrs. Mean is caught up. She waits. She fills her sack. But at last the furious fingers close on air, the arm jerks back an empty hand, and Mrs. Mean lowers her head to her failure. Alive, she whirls. Her wide skirt lifts. It is a crude ballet, a savage pantomime; for Mrs. Mean, unlike the other mothers of my street, does not shout her most desperate and determined wishes at her children. She forewarns with a trumpet but if her warnings are not heeded, she is silent as a snake. Her head jerks, and I know, reading the signs, that Mrs. Mean is seeking a weapon. The children are now the errant chaff, the undisciplined bolls, and although they are quite small children, Mrs. Mean always augments her power with a stick or a strap and dedicates to their capture and chastisement the same energy and stubborn singleness of purpose she has given to the destruction of weeds.
No jungle hunt’s been quieter. She discovers a fallen branch, the leaves still green. She shakes it. The twigs whip and the leaves rustle. She catches sight of her oldest boy beside the barn, rigid with the wildest suspense. His boll is floundering in a current of air. It hurtles toward a hole in the barn where cats crawl. His mother hobbles on him, her branch high, stiff, noiseless, as if it were now part of the punishment that he be taken unaware, his joy snuffed with fright as much by the indignity of being beaten about the ears with leaves.
I think she does not call them to their idiotic tasks because they might obey. Her anger is too great to stand obedience. The offence must be fed, fattened to fit the feeling, otherwise it might snap at nothing and be foolish. So it must seem that all her children have slunk quietly and cunningly away. It must seem that they have mocked her and have mocked her hate. They must, therefore, be quietly and cunningly pursued, beaten to their home, driven like the dogs: bunched on all fours, covering their behinds, protecting the backs of their bare legs from the sting of the switch and their ears with their hands; contorted like cripples, rolling and scrabbling away from the smart of the strap in jerks, wild with their arms as though shooing flies; all the while silent, engrossed, as dumb as the dumbest beasts; as if they knew no outcry could help them; refusing, like the captive, to give satisfaction to his enemy - though the youngest child is only two - and this silence as they flee her is more terrible to me than had they screamed to curdle blood and chill the bone.

[Mrs Mean, Gass, W. H.]

...of dumbfoundedness

I was going fast. I didn’t care about keeping low. I had my eyes on the spaces between trees. I was looking for the place where we’d left Simon and the sleigh. I thought I’d see Simon first, maybe his breath above a bank or beside the trunk of a tree. I slipped on a little snow the wind hadn’t blown from the path we’d took. I still had the gun in my right hand so I lost my balance. When I put out my left for support, it went into a drift to my elbow and into the barberry thorns. I jerked back and fell hard. Hans and Pa found it funny. But the legs that lay in front of me weren’t mine. I’d gone out in the blazing air. It was queer. Out of the snow I’d kicked away with my foot stuck a horse’s hoof and I didn’t feel the least terror or surprise.
Looks like a hoof, I said.
Hans and Pa were silent. I looked up at them, far away. Nothing now. Three men in the snow. A red scarf and some mittens. . . somebody’s ice and coal . . . the picture for January. But behind them on the blank hills? Then it rushed over me and I thought: this is as far as he rid him. I looked at the hoof and the shoe which didn’t belong in the picture. No dead horses for January. And on the snowhills there would be wild sled tracks and green trees and falling toboggans. This is as far. Or a glazed lake and rowdy skaters. Three men. On his ass: one. Dead horse and gun. And the question came to me very clearly, as if out of the calendar a girl had shouted: are you going to get up and walk on? Maybe it was the Christmas picture. The big log and the warm orange wood I was sprawled on in my flannel pajamas. I’d just been given a pistol that shot BBs. And the question was: was I going to get up and walk on? Han’s shoes, and Pa’s, were as steady as the horse’s. Were they hammered on? Their bodies stolen? Who’d left them standing here? And Christmas cookies cut in the shape of the kid’s dead wet behind . . . with maybe a cherry to liven the pale dough . . . a coal from the stove. But I couldn’t just say that looks like a hoof or that looks like a shoe and go right on because Hans and Pa were waiting behind me in their wool hats and pounding mittens . . . like a picture for January. Smiling. I was learning to skate.
Looks like this is as far as he rid him.

[The Pedersen Kid, Gass, W. H.]

...of allies

I have lost silence, and the regret I feel over that is immeasurable. I cannot describe the pain that invades a man once he has begun to speak. It is a motionless pain, that is itself pledged to muteness; because of it, the unbreathable is the element I breathe. I have shut myself up in a room, alone, there is no one in the house, almost no one outside, but this solitude itself has begun to speak, and I must in turn speak about this speaking solitude, not in derision, but because a greater solitude hovers above it, and above that solitude, another still greater, and each, taking the spoken word in order to smother it and silence it, instead echoes it to infinity, and infinity becomes its echo.
Someone has said to me, with some annoyance, “In your presence, mouths open.” That is possible, although it seems true of only a few people, because I have heard very few. But as I have listened to those few, my attention has been so great that they have not been able to be angry with me for what they have said, nor reproach themselves with it, nor perhaps remember it. And I have always been more closely bound to to them by what they have said to me than by what they could have hidden from me. People who are silent do not seem admirable to me because of that, nor yet less friendly. The ones who speak, or at least who speak to me because I have asked them a question, often seem to me the most silent, either because they evoke silence in me, or because, knowingly or unknowingly, they shut themselves up with me in an enclosed place where the person who questions them allies them with answers that their mouths do not hear.

[Death Sentence, Blanchot, M.]

...of reserve

After a week of silence I have seen clearly that if I was expressing badly what I was trying to express, there would not only be no end, but I would be glad to that there was no end. Even now, I am not sure that I am any more free than I was at the moment when I was not speaking. It may be that I am entirely mistaken. It may be that all these words are a curtain behind which what happened will never stop happening. The unfortunate thing is that having waited for so many years, during which silence, immobility, and patience carried to the point of inertia did not for one single day stop deceiving me, I had to open my eyes all at once and allow myself to be tempted by a splendid thought, which I am trying in vain to bring to its knees.
Pehaps these precautions will not be precautions. For some time I lived with a person who was obsessed by the idea of my death. I had said to her: “I think that at certain moments you would like to kill me. You shouldn’t resist that desire. I’m going to write down on a piece of paper that if you kill me you will be doing what is best.” But a thought is not exactly like a person, even if it lives and acts like one. A thought demands a loyalty which makes any slyness difficult. Sometimes it is itself false, but behind this lie I still recognise something real, which I cannot betray.
Its uprightness is what actually fascinates me. When this thought appears, memory is no longer present, nor uneasiness, nor weariness, nor foreboding, nor any recalling of yesterday, nor any plan for tomorrow. It appears, and perhaps it has appeared a thousand times, ten thousand times. What, then, could be more familiar to me? But familiarity is just what has disappeared forever between us. I look at it. It lives with me. It is in my house. Sometimes it begins to eat; sometimes, though rarely, it sleeps next to me. And I, a madman, fold my hands and let it eat its own flesh.
And these events, several of which I have recounted - but I am still recounting them now - I was immediately warned (told everything) about what it was in store for me. The only difference, and it was a large one, was that I was living in proud intimacy with terror; I was too shallow to see the misery and worthlessness of this intimacy, and I did not understand that it would demand something of me that a man cannot give. My only strong point was my silence. Such a great silence seems incredible to me when I think about it, not a virtue, because it in no way occurred to me to talk, but precisely that the silence never said to itself: be careful, there is something here which you owe me an explanation for, the fact that neither my memory, nor my daily life, nor my work, nor my actions, nor my spoken words, nor the words which come from my fingertips, ever alluded directly or indirectly to the thing which my whole person was engrossed in. I cannot understand this reserve, and I who I am now speaking turn bitterly towards those silent days, those silent years, as towards an inaccessible, unreal country, closed off from everyone, and most of all from myself, yet where I have lived during a large part of my life, without exertion, without desire, by a mystery which astonishes me.

[Death Sentence, Blanchot, M.]