Sunday, 1 November 2015

...of a peacekeeper

The dancer, graceful even in his staggering and stumbling, had vanished one-two-three into the crowd. Now the writer caught sight at the next table of a man whom he called the “legislator,” though they had never exchanged a word. The man was younger than the writer, he was always wearing the same sheepskin jacket, he was broad-shouldered, his ears stuck out, and under his high, arched brows his eyes were set so deep in thier sockets that they seemed small. His unflagging attentiveness gave him a military air. Yet he was the only one at his table who kept out of fights. Indeed, he moderated them, not by mixing in, but by expressly ignoring them. The others at the table were constantly jostling one another; he alonekept his peace. The look of quiet sorrow that he trained on two neighbors who were exchanging slaps stopped them from going at each other with their fists or possibly drawing knives. Silently he took in detail after detail and had a mute reply for everyone. When he opened his mouth to deliver a short sentence, his constant attentiveness seemed to have set the tone for his voice; never wavering, it laconically disposed of questionable behavior. This man who seldom spoke was the authority in the room; the power he radiated was the power of judgement. His kind of justice, however, was not static, not an unvarying rule; it was different in every instance, it was justice in action, a nascent justice with a wordlessly sympathetic rhythm, which pronounced judgement and at the end discharged the parties into silence. This silent listener with the flashing eyes, which took in a picture of everything, and the broad rolling shoulders that seemed to move in rhythm with whatever was going on in the room: was he not the ideal storyteller?

[The Afternoon of a Writer, Handke, P.]

...of namelessness

In a thicket shading from one gray to another, the writer caught sight of a bright-coloured form. At first glance he took if for an overturned advertising dummy, but then, by the bend of the fingers, he knew it was a living person. There lay an old woman, almost hairless, her eyes closed. She was stretched out prone, not on the ground, but on a tangle of branches that sagged under her weight. Only the tips of her shoes touched the ground; her whole body slanted, making the writer think, partly because of the outstretched arms, of an airplane that had made an emergency landing in a treetop. Her stockings were twisted and across her forehead there was a bleeding cut, made no doubt by a thorn. She must have been lying there a long time and might have stayed a lot longer, for pedestrians seldom came that way. The writer was unable to lift the heavy body - which was surprisingly warm - out of the thicket. But his efforts attracted attention, several cars stopped, and without asking questions helpers came running. Someone pushed a coat under the woman’s head, and they all gathered around her on the footpathm waiting for an ambulance. Though no one knew anyone else, they - even the foreigners among them - stood chatting like former neighbours, whom a splendid had brought together after all these years. An inspired namelessness prevailed. Nor did the victim, who was conscious, supply a name. She stared fixedly at the writer out of large, bright eyes. She knew neither her name nor her address, nor how she had got tangled up in these brambles along the highway. She was wearing a nightgown and bedroom slippers under a dressing gown; the people who had gathered conjectured that she came from the old people’s home and had lost her way. She spoke the language of the land without dialect, but with an accent suggesting not some far-off region but childhood, as though her childhood language had come back to her after a long absence. Actually, her speech consisted only of disjointed syllables or sounds, addressed like her glances exclusively to her discoverer. Speaking incoherently but in a clear voice, she was trying to tell him something important, something that he alone would understand - but that he would understand fully and without difficulty. In a few fragments, unintelligible to the others, she told him the whole story of her life, from her childhood years to the present. Already in the care of the ambulance, she was still talking to him, urgently, as though entrusting him with a mission. And indeed, when the helpers had gone and he was alone again, it seemed to him that he knew intuitively all there was to know about the confused old woman. Hadn’t he always learned more from intuition than from objective language? Looking up at the empty hedge, he foresaw that the heavy body with bent fingers would be lying there time and again, forever and ever. “O holy intuitions, stay with me.”

[The Afternoon of a Writer, Handke, P.]

...of pretense

He couldn’t help noticing how shaky he was when he asked for a paper at the newsstand in the arcade leading to the river. He could hardly finish his sentence, and when the change was held out to him he had difficulty taking it. Buying a paper, he said to himself for the hundredth time, had been his first mistake of the day; he resolved that he would just leaf through it, if possible while walking, and then throw it into a trash can. Just glancing at the headlines made him momentarily speechless; in response to the vendor’s small talk, the best he could manage was a nod. Seized with a sudden hatred of mankind, he winced when accidentally grazed by a passerby, and looked to one side to avoid speaking to an acquaintance who had recently told him the story of his life; by way of self-justification he “blacked out.” As a rule, these blackouts were put on.

[The Afternoon of a Writer, Handke, P.]

...of isolation

The road was yellow with fallen larch needles. Though ankle-deep at some bends in the road, they were piled so loosely that they dispersed under his footsteps, and the resulting streaks on the asphalt suggested meanders. As the silence around him deepened during his last hours in the house, he had been overwhelmed by the thought that the world outside had ceased to exist and that he in his room was the sole survivor. Consequently, he was vastly relieved to see a real, healthy-looking human being, a sweet-sweeper who, having finished his day’s work, stepped out of his toolshed in his street clothes, elaborately wiping his thick glasses with an enormous handkerchief. As they wished each other a good evening, it occurred to the writer that these were the first words he had exchanged that day; thus far, he had only listened in silence to the early-morning news, talked to the cat, and, seated at his desk, spoken a line or two aloud. As a result, he now had to clear his throat to prepare his voice for the customary man-to-man tone. Even if the nearsighted street sweeper couldn’t quite see him, how comforting, after supposing that the world had come to an end, to encounter these two living, energetic eyes. He had the feeling that only the colours of those eyes could understand him, just as, reflected in their eyes, he was able to understand the faces of the passersby - who were becoming more and more frequent as he approached the city.

[The Afternoon of a Writer, Handke, P.]

...of contrast

Eager though he was to go out, he hesitated as usual. He opened the doors to all the rooms on the ground floor, letting the light from different directions fuse. The house seemed uninhabited. He had the impression that, dissatisfied with being only worked in and slept in, it would have liked to be lived in as well. Of that the writer had probably been incapable from the start, as of any family life. He found window seats, dining tables, and pianos upsetting; stereo loudspeakers, chessboards and flower vases, even organised book shelves repelled him - his books tended to pile up on the floor and windowsills. It was only at night, sitting somewhere in the dark, looking out into the rooms, which to his taste were sufficiently illuminated by the city lights and their reflection in the sky, that he almost had a sense of being at home. At last he had no need to ponder and plan, but just sat there quietly in the silence, at the most remembering; these were the hours when he was happiest in the house, and he always prolonged them until, imperceptibly, his musings merged into equally peaceful dreams. In the daytime, however, especially just after work, he soon found silence oppressive. Then the splashing of the dishwasher in the kitchen or the hum of the dryer in the bathroom - if possible, both at once - came as a relief. Before even getting up from his desk, he needed the sounds of the outside world. Once, after months of writing in an almost sound-proof room in a high-rise building, close to the sky as it were, he had moved, in order to go on working, to a street-level room on a noisy traffic artery, and later, in the present house, though the construction noises next door had disturbed him at first, he had soon got used to hearing the din of the jackhammers and bulldozers every morning, very much as in the beginning he had played rock music to ease himself into work. From time to time, he would take his eyes off his paper, look out at the workers, and try to establish a harmony between what he was doing and their unhurried one-thing-after-another. He often needed a confrontation of this kind, which nature - the trees, the grass, the Virginia creeper twined around his window - could not in the long run provide. Be that as it may, a fly in the room disturbed him a lot, more than a pile driver outside.

[The Afternoon of a Writer, Handke, P.]

...of gloom

She sat down the candle, and Xavier found himself alone. He heard the boy whispering and laughing behind the door. The sound of footsteps died away. It must have been a long time since the room had last been occupied. One of the curtains had holes in it: but the candle-flame shone on the brass fittings and inlaid woodwork of a pot-bellied chest-of-drawers. Xavier could imagine what his mother would have said: “The drawing-room’s full of horrors, but there are some marvellous pieces in the guest-rooms.” He apporached the sheetless bed. A smell of dead mice came from the mattress. The half-open cupboard beside the bed had, too, a noticeable aroma. He went to the window but could not draw aside the curtains because the cord was broken. He did, however, at last manage to get the casement open. The night-wind blowing through the slats of the closed shutters flattened the candle-flame. Xavier knelt down, his forehead pressed against the mahogany framework of the bed.
At that moment he became conscious of a sense of suffering which came from something far deeper than the fact that he was lost and lonely in a hostile house. He knew that feeling: he had it before in certain clearly-defined circumstances, and the memory had stayed with him. What had it been made up of then? He could not say, but to-night it had a face, two faces, the young girl’s and the small boy’s; her’s in particular. What sort of an impression had she got of him? The thought of wht might be going on in her mind set him trembling. There was no sign of her return: the linen-cupboard must be locked…. Perhaps she had gone to put Roland to bed? Oh, well, sooner or later Mirbel would get worried: sooner or later somebody would turn up. Meanwhile, there was no gettng away from the smell of damp-mould, from the old mattress, from the bedside rug, the feel of which was under his knees, the threadbare surface before his eyes. He could no more escape from this room, from this house, than a convict from his cell. He called for help, he uttered a cry, but call and cry were silent. His lips did not move. Then, suddenly, it was as though the current of his horrible suffering had been switched off, as though the power had been cut. All movement ceased in him. A moth staggered about on the marble top of the chest-of-drawers. The curtains bellied momentarily in the night-wind, then came to rest. The moth seemed to have settled. The faint sound he heard came from the torn wall-paper moving in the wind.

[The Lamb, Mauriac, F.]

...of hesitancy

“They’re a lot maniacs and lunatics…” he declared, and, in reply to Xavier’s interrogative look….
“The chap’s, I mean, who write all this stuff… don’t you agree?”
Xavier shook his head:
“If I thought that….”
He stopped at the very moment when he was about to say - “I shouldn’t set my foot in the place at which I am due tomorrow evening….” He choked back the admission for fear lest the other might at once lose interest in him. It was not from deference to public opinion that he kept silent. He did not want to break the bond, the fragile and invisible strand which, for the last few seconds, as though tossed from one tree to another, had bound them together. He felt like Robinson Crusoe o his island, seeing suddenly before him another human being - not as the result of some unforeseeable shipwreck, but of an especial intention of that God who knew the secret places of the heart. He dreaded to speak the word which would put an end to this story of two persons before it had properly begun. But the other would not let the subject drop:
“You admit that you don’t take the slightest interest in all this?”
“I have been advised to read it.”
“Advised? - by whom?”
One part of himself, the part which bowed before his Director, whispered to Xavier: “this is precisely the duty demanded of you - to speak the word that shall separate you from this man. You pretend to yourself that your are acting from the highest of motives, whereas, in strict truth, in this pause before the door of the Seminary shall have closed behind you, you are merely yielding to the curiosity aroused in you by a casual acquaintance. What is demanded of you is, first and foremost, this specific sacrifice. If you don’t achieve that, you achieve nothing…” to which Xavier replied: “Maybe… but it is more than myself that is in question.” Where, at this moment, was the young woman? He conjured up in imagination the picture of the sitting-room in some country-house, with a window looking out on to just such an expanse of pasture-land, with its scarves of mist and its line of quivering poplars, as he could see framed in the window of the railway carriage. It was of her he wanted to speak; because of her, he felt sure, that he must not let this interchange between them be broken. Meanwhile, the young man was saying:
“I know I’m being indiscreet. I’ve got a perfect mania for asking questions….”

[The Lamb, Mauriac, F.]

...of shunning

Already the doors were being slammed. The late-comers had settled into thier seats. Only that single couple remained. All of a sudden the young woman had become voluble. Her companion turned away his head, and his powerful shoulders moved in a faint shrug. It was she who briefly touched with her lips the cheek which he had not proffered. Without returning her kiss he climbed into the train, and, for the last few moments before it began to move, though she was still standing on the platform with her face raised to his, he refused to look at her as, quite obviously, she wanted him to.
Xavier heard a little cry come from the silent lips which he could now see quite close to him thorugh the window, for she had come nearer. A necklace of gold beads glittered on the smooth flesh of her faintly pulsating throat. He felt like saying to his fellow traveller, “do speak to her… say something” - but by this time the young man had settled down with a newspaper - an organ of the extreme Right. Xavier felt sure that he was only pretending to read. How could anyone, no matter how lacking in feeling, be busy with a paper at such a moment? Quite unexpectedly, he was given a short repsite, since the train which, strictly speaking, should have been under way, was still standing at the platform. A smile, a wave of the hand, a movement of the lips, could, even now, at the last moment, have made all well.

[The Lamb, Mauriac, F.]

...of honesty

With a shock Howard now suddenly sees another shortcoming in his story. They don’t have tutors in this place; it’s not that kind of place at all. He must have made the whole thing up from start to finish. He now recalls seeing a painter on his knees in a shop doorway and thinking, wouldn’t it be funny if I, as a new-comer to this city, misunderstood the situation, and, anxious to please, knelt beside him… ? What he has done is to supply himself with a ridiculous experience by the telling of which he could entertain several hundred people, without having to undergo the dispiriting strain of suffering it first. For a moment he feels worried about the ethics of this. But then he asks himself if people would have enjoyed the story any more had it been true, and if they would have achieved any greater insight into themselves and their destinies. Of course not. In any case, they don’t know it wasn’t true. Howard realises that he has hit upon a radical solution to one of the main problems in enjoying a satisfactory life-style. He has discovered how to enjoy his life without being seen to.
He stands up and taps the table for silence, intending to announce this new discovery, in the hope that it will cause yet more laughter, and increase his reputation for honesty still further.
Everyone round the table falls silent and looks at him, poised to laugh again.
‘Why don’t we have coffee next door?’ he says, and leads the way amidst laughter and applause.
For he has realised something else, in the moment of inspiration between standing up and beginning to speak: that the aesthetic effect of honesty depends upon restraint in its application.

[Sweet Dreams, Frayn, M.]

...of frozen time

Inside the room, Boris tried to get up, to at least move his leg, but without succeeding; he therefore remained immobile.
The atmosphere became syrupy; it even coagulated here and there in big pale clots which slowly passed by, filling up the room and gluing itself to the walls, slowing down his embolism in this way.
The clock, which hung above the big wooden filing cabinet, counted off the minutes in an ever dubious fashion, dissociating them from each other; having arrived at the bottom of the dial, the minute hand stopped altogether, being incapable of following an itinerary so devoid of sense. A very obscure silence, in the midst of which thought itself seemed to have lost its meaning, established itself between the ceiling, the window and the door. Eternity was all consuming.

[A Regicide, Robbe-Grillet, A.]

...of the majority

Without straining logic any further, the Church Party was at present glorying in a small gain of a few hundred thousand votes, which, however large this might seem in relation to the total number of voters for this party or even to the total number of all the voters, only constituted a handful in comparison with the tens of millions of hearts which were supposed to be beating for the Church.
Certainly, Boris was not taken in by these propaganda devices, which were only good enough to deceive children. Nothing had really changed; even if a new majority were to establish itself in parliament, even if the King had to reshuffle his ministers, the ninety million phantom voters would continue to represent the real country and, ultimately, they were the ones who counted. And, in this sense, it was certain in any case that those in power represented the general opinion, because it was easier for them to upset any particular interest group with impunity than to take any initiative that would awaken the masses that supported none of them. That was why the important changes in law which figured in the party electoral programmes were never seriously proposed by their mandated defenders, so dangerous did it seem to them to get the assembly to adopt a reform, the promise of which had not attracted the country to the ballot boxes. Any group that took advantage of its fleeting majority to try to force through such a measure would in fact be taking the risk, apart from the remote possibility of a popular rising, of seeing a few malcontents who were in disagreement breaking out of their silence the following year and throwing their weight on the other side, thereby upsetting the clever combinations of bought electorates.

[A Regicide, Robbe-Grillet, A.]