Saturday, December 19, 2009
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Friday, December 11, 2009
I had to make a great effort not to break into tears. "Hosna wasn't mad," I said. "She was the sanest woman in the village- it's you who're mad. She was the sanest woman in the village- and the most beautiful. Hosna wasn't mad."
Mahjoub laughed, guffawed with laughter. "How extraordinary!" I heard him say amidst laughter. "Take a pull at yourself, man! Wake up! Fancy you falling in love at your age! You've become as mad as Wad Rayyes. Schooling and education have become as mad as Wad Rayyes. Schooling and education have made you soft. You're crying like a woman. Good God, wonders never cease-love, illness and tears, and she wasn't worth a millième. If it wasn't for the sake of decency she wouldn't have been worth burying-we'd have thrown her into the river or left her body out for the hawks."
I'm not altogether clear as to what happened next. However, I do remember my hands closing over Mahjoub's throat; I remember the way his eyes bulged; I remember, too, a violent blow in the stomach and Mahjoub crouching on my chest. I remember Mahjoub prostrate on the ground and me kicking him, and I remember his voice screaming out "Mad! You're mad!" I remember a clamour and a shouting as I pressed down on Mahjoub's throat and heard a gurgling sound; then I felt a powerful hand pulling me by the next and the impact of a heavy stick on my head.
Friday, November 20, 2009
The poor people were filling the roads and markets with movement and noise, and sleeping on the ground in their old ramshackle houses. Like demons, they'd laugh, cry, and argue with each other. They used to pray dutifully, and on feast days they'd come out into the streets and markets with cheerful faces, forgetting their poverty, and the tattered clothes they wore, and the mothers who struggled, laughed, and cried. It was because of them that I wanted to change something that lay deep in the very core of life itself. Whenever I conceived of the earth changing, in motion and assuming new hues, I'd feel a pleasant shudder deep down inside me. It wasn't the way politicians bring about change (as I was to realize when I grew older), but that of rebels not yet familiar with theories and revolutionary planning and the kind of change such rebels aspire to has no connection at all with mere change in governmental systems and class conflict.
It was notions of rebellion like this that prompted me to live in the way I must if I was to achieve the thing I was envisioning, however unclearly - which meant rejecting laws and customs that were found to be incompatible with this absolute love and float like an unknown bird in unknown heavens; and, within the setting of my isolation from everything, I would actually, paradoxically, be in touch with my love of everything.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
When we arrived at al-Sharafa Square I asked the driver if he knew the house of Dr. Hilmi al-Muhtadi. He said: "But he died years ago." "I know." (I did not know. But Abut Hazim had described his house to me as 'opposite the house of Dr. Hilmi al-Muhtadi.') I added: "I'm going to a house nearby." Abu Hazim used to live - like us - in the Lifdtawi Building, but he had moved. And in spite of the careful directions he had given me - and before me Mounif - I was so distracted and tense that I could not remember what he had said. And I had arrived in Ramallah after dark. The driver said: "I know his clinic at al-Manara, but I don't know the house." The lady sitting in the back asked me exactly which house I was looking for. "The house of Mughira al-Barghouti, Abut Hazim." She asked me the name of his wife. I said: "Fadwa al-Barghouti. She works in the the In'ash al-Usra Society." She said she knew her and had worked with her, but she did not know the house. Another passenger from the back seat said to the driver: "Try taking the next left then ask. I think the doctor's house is close to here." The driver turned left and then stopped in the hope that a passerby could tell us the way. It was 8:30 pm. But the moment he stopped, I heard voices calling: "'Ammu Mourid, 'Ammu Mourid. Come up. We're here!" In a second they were around me. "Where's your father?" Fadwa said that the moment he had seen one of the bridge cars stopping (with the luggage on top) he had gone to the phone to call my mother in Amman. I knew that my mother would have spent the whole day by the phone until she heard I had arrived safely. The experience of eating Mounif back form the bridge is still constantly with her. And when she said goodbye to me on the bridge her face was a misture of hope and despair. I knew also that Radwa and Tamim in Dairo had been waiting since noon for me to contact them from Ramallah. "We've all been on the balconies since noon." And her daughter, Abeer, said: "Watchtoweres. Father and mother on the first floor balconies, Sam and I on the second. Priase God for your safe arrival." Abu Hazim went for me with open arms. He went for e with his white hair and outstretched arms: a running cross. A happy cross running toward me. Our shoulders met two-thirds of the way to his house. I called my mother and 'Alaa and Elham in Amman, and Radwa and Tamim in Cairo: "I'm in Ramallah." And on Abut Hazim's balcony there it was, in its black frame, hanging on the wall, the first thing my eyes fell upon: Mounif's photograph.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Thursday, October 08, 2009
A Million Women are your Mother
O forest that my body has set on fire,
disregard what can't be disregarded,
whisper your hidden rustle
into my mouth, into my ears,
and into my pores;
reveal your rebellion
in the perforated dome
of a collapsing body.
Isn't winter harsh? Aren't time and snow,
rain and storms, too?
But oh, how beautiful they are
as they go away.
I didn't know that forgetfulness has legs,
yet it comes and goes like an unruly horse
waiting for the bronze-colored rose to fall
from the top of the branches.
If the rose falls on the horse's back,
the horse will fly away with it;
if it falls between its legs,
the horse will kick it.
O forest that has blossomed in my body,
don't be afraid.
I've hidden my soul in you
or between two cracks as strong as armies
(although armies don't know us and don't care).
Plunge your head into me,
until our bones almost intertwine.
Let us be next to each other,
interlaced like the heart's duality.
Touch me as God would touch the clay
and I will turn into a human being in a flash.
How can I escape, sweetheart,
when my heart's fire runs in all directions,
in speech and in silence,
so that you may be born a million times
in ages of greater strangeness.
O my blond forest, unite your fear
and mine strongly;
let your bones enter the tunnel of my bones,
then pull the remainder of your body in
There will be long, narrow passages
in front of you, and Truth lies in the narrowest.
Take care and don't forget that you're going there
and not to bend.
Behold, the ghosts of the world are advancing,
and steal a look from the cracks of windows
Whenever a god passes, applaud him
or climb on the edges of trucks
and shout: the moon's blood is from his blood
and its flesh is from his fabric.
But when will you come
so that I may tell you secretly
who the real god is?
The harsh rain was singing a military march
and shooting its bullets at the roots.
(How were you born in the midst of that fight?)
O God, command the valley
to take us to the original fountain,
and the mountain to take us to the real summit.
If the great darkness flees from the whip
and Truth lies flat on the executioner's floor
and the alphabet turns into unfair laws
and the poets turn into dust on the tables,
I will fold up my time and hide it in my bosom.
And if I see my shadow, I will think I am crawling
in order to gnaw on the dry bread of famine.
But two feet of stone can't walk.
Behold, noon is like hard concrete
and the spears of ice cut through the limbs.
Souls that taste like bread are crunched by the air.
A million women are your mother, my little one,
and they untie the string
of the horizon for you so that
death may become temporary, like sleep.
Let us dig up the slaves and bondsmen,
and let us bury the masters of hunger;
and fountains have opened their white mouth
and sent forth their tragic call.
(How terrible giving up the soul is!)
Yet the fountains leave geranium
and damascene roses in their trace.
What angry power is it
that tears out the fetuses from our wombs?
Let that flood
weave the bed of our loneliness.
What will its beast do upon stumbling
while the winter, like an eagle,
beats it with its wings?
In its body are millions of waves,
a chronic eagerness for the earth,
while the drowning mariners
come out of the gates of Time's water
with a sharper vision,
the lines of their ribs visible on their back,
and they say:
the forests that have entered the sea
will bear leaves again
because their heart does not die.
Thus, when Time locks its door to everyone,
I will enter the train of death, pleased;
I will hold the string of absence and pull it,
and my imaginary self will come,
my self that was born of the wombs of mirrors
with their frightening and obscure words.
But frightened bodies secrete what will save them,
and, behold, the door of peace opens
between Paradise and the Earth.
Life alone can take us away and return us.
Death has perished
and worm have become extinct.
The human stone is split so that
new generations will be born.
As for me,
I will withhold the eggs of reproduction
in my womb
to live thus as virgins,
so that spring may not be pressed
by force into the spray of bullets.
translated from the Arabic by Issa J. Boullata
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Barely out of childhood, he wasn't really a youth yet. Although fifteen years old, he looked eleven. He was thin, ugly, awkward, and his hair was very long. On arriving in Argentina with his parents two years earlier, he had been struck by the way young men wore their hair long, as common in the new country as it was rare back home: he thought it was sublime. Being young, foreign and therefore naive, he didn't realize the Argentineans with long hairs belonged to the lowest social stratum, and were precisely those who had condemned themselves never to escape from it. But even if he had realized, it wouldn't have mattered to him. He liked the look, and that was that. So he let his hair grow; it already reached half way down his back, below his flat shoulder blades. it looked truly awful. His parents, who were humble, decent people, had unfortunately tried to reason him out of it; if they had threatened him or issued a decree, he would have submitted to the scissors straight away. But no, they began by telling him he looked like a girl, or a lout; and once they had set off on that path, there was no end to it. They couldn't retract their reasoning, which was sound. Besides, they were kind and understanding. They said: "He'll get over it." Meanwhile their son went around looking like a little woman. Since his hair got in the way when he was working, he had thought of putting it in a pony tail with an elastic band, but for the moment he didn't dare. On the building sites no one remarked on it, or even deigned to notice. It really was very common; at least he had been right about that. In Chile, he would have been interviewed on television or, more likely, thrown into prison.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
"no author in the latter half of this century has been more intensely concerned with "the manifestation and expression of destructive effects of war within the individual self" than Bachmann. Deeply devastated by the hysteria and horror manifested by the war, she never felt that violence and atrocities ceased with Germany's surrender. rather, as a member of the postwar generation, she was just as deeply disturbed by the greed and corruption of Germany's "miraculous" recovery in the 1950s, as well as by the lack of recognition and remembrance for the victims who had truly suffered.
"Memory and history, then, were Bachmann's twin muses. What sets her apart from other writers of the ear is how she saw the manifestation of fascism as not being limited to the specific context of the war but also existing within everyday life, particularly in relationships between men and women. As she noted in an interview just a few months before her death in 1973, "Fascism begins in relations between people. Fascism ins the primary element in the relationship between a man and a woman." Nothing that there was no "war and peace" in contemporary society, but rather "only war," Bachmann wished to trace the evolution of fascism within intimate relationships, as well as within single individuals, rather than sweeping historical events.
"Nowhere is this more true than in Bachmannn's "Todesarten" novels. As we learn in Malina, " people don't die here, they are murdered."
"As Hans Holler writes, "Malina, The Book of Franza, and Requiem for Fanny Goldmann illustrate that it is not only through death that the victim confronts ultimate truth, but rather through the experience of the fear and sorrow of our time.: It is a testament to Ingeborg Bachmann's genius that despite what she was as the pervasive menace fo the "unspeakable" in the postwar world, she herself never stopped searching for a way to evoke the ineffable and unspoken qualities of our inner nature in order that such fear and sorrow be given true expression rahter than be converted into oppression and silence."
Thursday, March 19, 2009
On the Motion and Immobility of Douve (1953)
Je nommerai désert ce château que tu fus,
Nuit cette voix, absence ton visage,
Et quand tu tomberas dans la terre stérile
Je nommerai néant l’éclair qui t’a porté.
Mourir est un pays que tu aimais. Je viens
Mais éternellement par tes sombres chemins.
Je détruis ton désir, ta forme, ta mémoire,
Je suis ton ennemi qui n’aura de pitié.
Je te nommerai guerre et je prendrai
Sur toi les libertés de la guerre et j’aurai
Dans mes mains ton visage obscur et traversé,
Dans mon cœur ce pays qu’illumine l’orage.
I will name wilderness the castle which you were
Night your voice, absence your face,
And when you fall back into sterile earth
I will name nothingness the lighting which bore you.
Dying is a country which you loved. I appoarch
Along your dark ways, but eternally.
I destroy your desire, your form, your trace in me,
I am your enemy who will show no mercy.
I will name you war and I will take
With you the liberties of war, and I will have
In my hands your dark-crossed face,
In my heart this land which the storm lights.
If it is to appear, the deep light needs
A ravaged soil cracking with night.
It is from the dark wood that the flame will leap.
Speech itself needs such substance,
A lifeless shore beyond all singing.
You will have to go through death to live,
The purest presence is blood which is shed.
The bird will soar to meet our heads,
A shoulder of blood will be lifted for him.
He will fold his joyful wings on the peak
Of this tree your body will offer him.
He will sing a long time fading into the branches,
Darkness will erase the boundaries of his cry.
Refusing any death hinted by the branches
He will dare to pass the summits of the night.
This opened stone it is you, this wrecked house,
How can one die?
I brought light, I looked,
Everywhere blood reigned.
And I cried, I wept with my whole body.
The mouth shut tight, the face washed,
The body purified, that shining fate
Buried in the earth of words,
And the humblest marriage is consummated.
Silenced that voice which shouted in my face
That we were wild and separated,
Walled up those eyes: and I hold Douve dead
In the rasping self locked with me again.
And however great the coldness rising from you,
However searing the ice of our embrace
Douve, I do speak in you; and I clasp you
In the act of knowing and of naming.
Remember the island where they build the fire
Out of every olive tree thriving on the slopes,
In order that night should arch higher and at dawn
The only wind be that of sterility.
So many charred roads will make up a kingdom
Where the pride we once knew can reign again,
For nothing can swell an eternal force
But an eternal flame and the ruin of everything.
For myself I will go back to that earth of ashes,
I will lay down my heart on its ravaged body.
Am I not your life in its deepest alarms,
Whose only monument is the Phoenix's pyre?
When the salamander reappeared, the sun
Was already very low on every land,
The flagstones took on beauty from this radiant body.
And already he had cut that last
Bond which is the heart reached in darkness.
Thus, rock y landscape, his wound opened
A ravine to die in, under a motionless sky.
Still turned toward the windows, his face
Lighted with those old trees where he could die.
Cassandra, he will say, hands empty and painted,
Gaze drawn up from lower than any gaze of love,
Take in your hands, save in their embrace
This head now dead where time is ruins.
The Idea grows in me that I am pure and live
In the high house from which I had fled.
Oh that all be simple on the shores where I die
Press in to my fingers the book, the obulus.
Smooth me, anoint me. Dye my absence.
Shut down these eyes not acknowledging night.
Bed me in folds of a lasting silence,
Put out with the lamp a land of oblivion.
But you, but the desert! Spread lower
Your gloomy folds of sand.
Wind into this heart so that it will not stop
Your silence like a legendary cause.
Come. Here a thought breaks off,
Here a beautiful country runs out of roads.
Move out on the rim of that frozen dawn
Which yields as your due a hostile sun.
And sing. You mourn twice over what you mourn
If you dare to sing, denying night.
Smile, and sing. He needs your presence,
Dark light, on the waters of what he was.
Place of Battle
Here the knight of mourning is defeated.
As he guarded a spring, so now
I awaken, by the grace of trees
Amid the noise of waters, dream renewing itself.
He says nothing. His is the face I look for
At every spring and cliffside, dead brother.
Face of a vanquished night bending
Over the daybreak of the torn shoulder.
He says nothing. What could he say now the battle is over,
He who was beaten by a word of truth?
He turns his helpless face to the ground,
To die is his one cry, of true repose.
But does he weep over a deeper
Spring and does he flower, dahlia of the dead,
At the gates of November's muddy waters
Which bear to us the sound of the dead world?
It seems, as I bend to the arduous dawn
Of this day which is owed me and which I won back,
That I hear sobbing the eternal presence
Of my secret demon who was never buried.
You shall surge up, shore of my strength!
But may it be despite this daylight leading me.
Shadows, you are no more. If the dark must be reborn
It will be in the night and by the night.
Day breaks over the evening, it shall sweep beyond
The daily night.
O our strength and our glory, will you be able
To Peirce the rampart of the dead?
Monday, March 16, 2009
Friday, March 13, 2009
At the beginning of the Empire the Romans introduced a new deity to their pantheon. It happened almost furtively, after hesitation and without any theological preparations.
Securitas--this is how she was called--was elevated to the altars and watched over the Emperor's security. But attaching her to a single person, though an important one, deprived the goddess of the indispensable trait of universality.
The sober Romans noticed a contradiction in the nature of the new goddess of Security that was difficult to disentangle, even a seed of conflict. A guarantee of protection by the supernatural powers might lead the Emperor into a state of exaggerated self-confidence, pride, and arrogance. As a rule this is disastrous for the security of the citizens.
A compromise had to be invented. The Romans decided to put another, parallel Securitas for citizens in the heavens. But there were more complications: they had to decide whether it would be one deity with two protective branches, or two separate deities with different spheres of power. If there were two separate deities, what would be their relationship? Hierarchy and division of competence are matters of fundamental importance in any administration, including the heavenly one.
The appearance of the new goddess provoked passionate discussion and a split in popular opinion. The advocates of strong power were delighted by the discovery of the new deity. They thought it was necessary, timely, and at last purely Roman--it put an end to the shameful custom of copying decadent Hellenistic models. They loudly demanded an end to subtle religious disputes, so people's minds wouldn't be confused and their hearts could unite around the new cult.
The republicans--or rather their pitiful survivors--declared they were decidedly (though timidly) in favor of one Securitas for all citizens. They argued that the Emperor was, after all, a citizen too, and it wouldn't hurt to remind him of this at every occasion.
Finally, the fortune-tellers and priests exercised the far-reaching restraint characteristic of conservatives. They limited themselves to elaborating a complicated document and sent it to the Senate. The Senate, in keeping with its tradition, could not reach a decision. It deliberated at length, exhaustively considered all the pros and cons, and after many months postponed answering the important question of one or two protectors of Security sine die. No one noticed that on the heavenly field, only the Emperor's Securitas remained.
We do not know the face of Securitas, whether gentle or cruel. Nor do we know her intricate or simple symbols, the ritual, cult, even a single prayer or invocation of her followers. Securitas had the privilege of expressions that were unmarked and unrecorded, of unmeasurable values hovering between zero and infinity. Because of this quality Securitas could penetrate all things, and a moment of inattention was enough for her to become the tissue of our flesh, the backbone of a landscape with a rainbow, the natural order of things.
Only on coins, the oldest dating from the time of Nero, can we see her worn figure: a woman in a chiton holding a spear. Her banal posture and stately immobility are there only to lull our attention. On a small piece of metal it is difficult to express her essence: dog-like vigilance, and furious pursuit.
The victims of Securitas--more precisely, the half-eaten victims--avoided speaking about her. Why should they? The few who had the courage to make their revelations public met with disbelief and a sense of distaste. The conviction is very strong that the misfortune of another reduces, in a way empties, the reservoir of bad fate--that another's bad luck protects us and increases our chances of survival. This salutary illusion always wins over the simple logic of facts. It will be this way forever.
It would be a mistake to think that the constant presence of the goddess was maintained by prophets, priestly councils, and the inspired. Securitas avoided pomp, ostentation, even publicity. She was severe, and content to have faceless executors.
What to call them? The problem appears insignificant but in fact is an important matter, an attempt to define what is the only material proof of the existence of the invisible Securitas. Popular tradition passed on dozens of euphemistic, funny, vulgar descriptions and a whole mine of anecdotes, but this surplus makes the choice difficult. So how should they be called? Functionaries--this sounds very general. Guards--this is full of pathos. Agents--too policelike. We select an emotionally neutral term: Attendants.
The Attendants wait in vain for their Proust. Great art is slow in paying them due justice or crowning their labors. These were countless. Rapt attention, speeding up or slowing down of the pace, sudden turns and pirouettes in a metropolitan ballet, floors, corridors, straining of memory, patient standing at street corners, empty hours in a cafe with a newspaper read many times over, fitting proofs of guilt together from overheard whispers, bits and snatches of conversation, papers, even from the flies on the ceiling. But these were not reflected, with a hundredfold echo, in any long roman fleuve, figurative painting, or opera.
The struggle of the Attendants. Not an obvious one against the enemies of security but a spiritual one, brushing asceticism and even self-abnegation. An inhuman effort of will to erase personal traits, to discard one's own physiognomy--on which the profession left its stamp like smallpox--and to achieve the pure face of a passerby. Only at the moment of attack and boarding, which consists in a delicate or brutal nudge, apologies, entering a conversation about some supposed common acquaintance, vacations in the mountains, participation in an illegal organization--only then will an experienced eye notice how the good-natured face melts away, and the frozen, real face of the Attendant is peering out from under the water. This is all prehistory. In the beginning idyllic, clumsy and awkward, the Attendants move with the spirit of the times and advances in science, carried by the high wave of electronics.
The sadness of the Attendants. Securitas does not lavish warmth on them. Those who have given their entire lives to her ought to abandon any hope of reward. She is a cold and technical goddess whose potestas relies on the laws of nature, not the laws of man. Securitas has created a closed system, drawing energy from itself: the old dream of a perpetuum mobile. In this system she has introduced numerous bodies which, like planets, circle in marked orbits around a motionless center of power. Changing the system seems as impossible as changing the laws of gravity. The Attendants sense it, and at the same time know they are perfectly interchangeable. A single frown on the goddess's brow and they fall into non-existence. Despite this--or precisely because of this--they serve her faithfully. Indeed, there are many who prefer inexorable necessity to deceptive, dangerous freedom.
Researchers in mythology have devoted far too little attention to the goddess Securitas. Some have maintained she is only a pale personification, but they are profoundly mistaken. What other ancient deity has survived to our own times and enjoys such robust health? This fact alone should be an incentive for deeper studies and for scholarly reflection.
We know that each god ruled over a specific sphere of reality, had his own zealously guarded hunting district and favorite human game. The domain of Securitas is murky, determined by an unclear threat. Her entire inventiveness consists in devising ever-new dangers. She skillfully gives these out in doses, for she knows the art of gradation. Sometimes she is satisfied with a rioting suburb, then she embraces a frenzied city, wanders from one continent to another like the plague, captures land, water, air. Her borders are elastic. Who sets them? Most likely fear.
She does not need temples, sacrificial smoke, processions, or sacred orgies. She is satisfied with a profession of faith in our own miserable physiology. A flutter of the heart, sudden paralysis of the legs, cold sweat, shrieking in a dream--it is not us but our bodies that sing a daily antiphony to her glory.
Securitas belongs to the species of monsters. Compared to her, what are all these childish monster-giants, dragons, half-men and half-animals, hybrids haphazardly sewn together? Securitas is very much like us. She is a monster with a human face.
Like every deity, Securitas draws vital forces from our hopes and fears. She possesses a vast amount of psychological knowledge. She does not lavishly give away eternal youth because this is a charlatan's stock-in-trade. She does not promise other worlds, nor does she deceive us with notions of justice, because when all is said and done each of us--in the depths of the heart--counts only on a final act of mercy. Securitas puts us face to face with the cruel alternative: either security or freedom. TERTIUM NON DATUR.
In our harassed epoch Securitas can count on multitudes of followers. We value security, this lottery in which the winning number is just a stake in a game, a pitiful token that entitles the holder to continue the game as long as the hand continues to serve him.
Security, what is security? A faint-hearted formula for happiness. Life without struggle.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
"The murderers, you mean?"
"No, not the living men who personally, physically killed him. The living who alienated him from life, who brought him to a point where he saw certain things in life and did others..."
Saturday, January 24, 2009
"The moral backbone of literature is about that whole question of memory. To my mind it seems clear that those who have no memory have the much greater chance to lead happy lives. But it is something you cannot possibly escape: your psychological make-up is such that you are inclined to look back over your shoulder. Memory, even if you repress it, will come back at you and it will shape your life. Without memories there wouldn't be any writing: the specific weight an image or phrase needs to get across to the reader can only come from things remembered - not from yesterday but from a long time ago."
from the "The Emigrants"
Dr Henry Selwyn
"When we received the news, I had no great difficulty in overcoming the initial shock. But certain things, as I am increasingly becoming aware, have a way of returning unexpectedly, often after a lengthy absence. In late July 1986 I was in Switzerland for a few days. On the morning of the 23rd I took the train from Zurich to Lausanne. As the train slowed to cross the Aare bridge, approaching Berne, I gazed way beyond the city to the mountains of the Oberland. At that point, as I recall, or perhaps merely imagined, the memory of Dr. Selwyn returned to me for the first time in a long while. Three quarters of a n hour later, not wanting to miss the landscape around Lake Geneva, which never fails to astound me as it opens out, I was just laying aside the Lausanne paper I'l bought in Zurich when my eye was caught by a report that said the remains of the Bernese alpine guide Johannes Naegeli, missing since summer 1914, had been released by the Oberaar glacier, seventy-two years later. And so they are ever returning to, the dead. At times they come back from the ice more than seven decades later and are found at the edge of the moraine, a few polished bones and a pair of hobnailed boots."
"I was reminded then of how we had only ever spoken of him as Paul at school, not without respect but rather as one might refer to an exemplary older brother, and in a way this implied that he was one of us, or that we belong together. This, as I have come to realize, was merely a fabrication of our minds, because, even though Paul knew and understood us, we, for our part, had little idea of what he was or what went on inside him. And so, belatedly, I tried to get closer to him, to imagine what his life was like in that specious apartment on the top floor of Lerchenmuller's old house, which had once stood where the present block of flats is now, amidst an array of green vegetable patches and colorful flower beds, in the gardens where Paul often helped out of an afternoon. I imagined him lying in the open air on his balcony where he would often sleep in the summer, his canopied by the hosts of the stars. I imagined him skating in winter, alone on the fish ponds at Moosbach; and I imagined him stretched out on the track. As I pictured him he had taken off his spectacles and put them on the ballast stones by his side. the gleaming bands of steel, the crossbars of the sleepers, the spruce trees on the hillside above the village of Altstadten, the arc of the mountains he knew so well, were a blur before his short-sighted eyes, smudged out in the gathering dusk. At the last, as the thunderous sound approached, all he saw was a darkening grayness and in the midst of it, needle-sharp, the snow-white silhouettes of three mountains; the Kratzer, the Trettach and the Himmelsschrofen. Such endeavors to image his life and death did not, as I had to admit, bring me any closer to Paul, except at best for brief emotional moments of the kind that seemed presumptuous to me. It is in order to avoid this sort of wrongful trespass that I have written down what I know of Paul Bereyter. "
"The doctor who had operated on his cataracts had advised him that peaceful spells spent simply looking at the leaves would protect and improve his eyesight. Not, of course that Paul took any notice whatsoever of the doctor's orders at night, said Mme Landau. His light was always on till the small hours. He read and read - Altenberg, Trakl, Wittgenstein, Friedell, Hasenclever, Toller, Tucholsky, Kalus Mann, Ossietzky, Benjamin, Koestler and Zweig: almost all of them writers who had taken their own lives or had been close to doing so. he copied out passages into notebooks which give a good idea of how much the lives of these particular authors interested him. Paul copied out hundreds of pages mostly in Gabelsberg shorthand because otherwise he would not have been able to write fast enough, and time and again one comes across stories of suicide. It seemed to me, said Mme Landau, handing me the black oilcloth books, as if Paul had been gathering evidence, the mountin weight of which, as his investigations proceeded, finally convinced him that he belonged to the exiles and not to the people of S."
"The rest of the time I was looking for Cosmo and Ambros night and day. Now and then I thought I saw them disappear into an entry or a lift or turn a street corner. Or else I really did see them, taking tea out in the courtyard, or in the hall leafing through the latest papers, which were brought early every morning at breakneck speed from Paris to Deauville by Gabriel the chauffeur. the were silent, as the dead usually are when they appear in our dreams, and seemed somewhat downcast and dejected. Generally, in fact, they behaved as if their altered condition, so to speak, were a terrible family secret not to be revealed under any circumstances. If I approached them, they dissolved before my very eyes, leaving behind them nothing but the vacant space they had occupied. Whenever I caught sight of them, I contented myself with observing them from a distance. Wherever I happened upon them it was as if they constituted a point of stillness in the ceaseless bustle. It seemed as though the whole world had gathered there in Deauville for the summer of 1913."
"I only saw him in a three-piece suit and waring a flawlessly knotted bow tie. Nonetheless, even when hew as simply standing at the window looking out he always gave the impression of being filled with some appalling grief. I do not think, said Dr abramsky, that I have ever met a more melancholy person than your great-uncle; every casual utterance, every gesture, his entire deportment (he held himself erect until the end), was tantamount to a constant pleading for leave of absence. At meals - to which he always came, since he reamined absolute in matters of courtesy even in his darkest times - he still helped himself, but what he actually ate was no more than the symbolic offerings that were once placed on the graves of the dead. It was also remarkable how readily Ambrose submitted to shock treatment, which in the early Fifties, as I understood only later, really came close to torture or martyrdom. Other patients often had to be frogmarched to the treatment room, said Dr Abramsky, but Ambrose would always be sitting on the stool ouside the door at the appointed hour, leaning his head against the wall, eyes closed, waiting for what was in store for him."
"at a time, that is, when psychiatry was primarily concerned with subduing those in its custody, and keeping the in safe detention. For that reason he was naturally inclined to interpret the recurrent desolation and apathy of sick patients exposed to continued shock therapy, their growing inability to concentrate, their sluggishness of mind, their muted voices and even when patients entirely ceased to speak, as signs of successful therapy. So to his mind the docility of Ambrose was a result of the new treatment. Ambrose was one fo the first of our patients to undergo a series of shocks, over a period of weeks and months; but that docility, as I was already beginning to suspect, was in fact due simply to your great-uncle's longing for an extincition as total and irreversible as possible of his capacity to think and remember."
"Their visit to Egypt seems to have been made at rather short notice, said Aunt Fini, and from what Uncle Adelwarth told me it was an attempt to regain the past, attempt that appears to have failed in every respect."
"For long stretches not a tree, not a shrub, scarcely so much as a meagre clump of weeds. Cosmo very taciturn. Darkened sky. Great clouds of dust rolling through the air. Terrible desolation and emptiness. Late in the afternoon it cleared once more. A rosy glow lay upon the valley, and through an opening in the mountainous terrain we could see the promised city in the distance - a ruined and broken mass of rocks, the Queen of the desert ..."
"The more recent buildings of an ugliness hard to describe. Large quantities of filth in the streets. On marche sur des merdes!!! Pulverized limestone ankle-deep in places. The few plants which have survived the drought that has lasted since May are covered in this powdery meal as if by a blight. Une malediction semble planer sur la ville. Decay, nothing but decay, maramus and emptiness. Not a sign of any business or industry. All we passed were a tallow-and-soap factory and a bone-and-hide works. Next to this, in a wide square, the knacker's yard. In the middle a big hole. Coagulated blood, heaps of entrails, blackish-brown tripes, dried and scorched by the sun ... Other wise one church after another, monasteries, religious and philanthropic establishments of every kind and denomination. -"
"In the afternoon (he continues) out of the city to the Mount of Olives. We pass a withered vineyward. The soil beneath the black vines rust-coloured, exhausted and scorched. Scarcely a wild olive tree, a thorn bush, or a little hyssop. On the crest of the Mount of Olives runs a riding track. Beyond the valley of Jehosaphat, where a the end of time, it is said, the entire human race will gather in the flesh, the silent city rises from the white limestone with its domes, towers and ruins. Over the rooftops not a sound, not a trace of smoke, nothing. Nowhere, as fasras the eye can see, is there any sign of life, not a anime scurrying by, or even the smallest bird in flight. On dirait que c'est la terre maudite ..."
"And then came the age of destruction. Every settlement up to a four-hour journey away in every direction was destroyed, the irgation systems were wrecked, and the trees and bushes were cut down, burnt and blasted, down to the very last stump. For years the Caesars deliberately
"Whenever his eye fell on me I felt as despised and cold as a stray dog. Later, too, outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a continuing feeling of oppressiveness and misery. No matter which direction we went in, we always came up at one of the steep ravines that crisscross the city, falling aways to the valleys. By now the ravines have largely been filled with rubbish of a thousand years, and everywhere liquid waste flows openly into them. As a result, the water of numerous springs has beome undrinkable. The erstwhile pools of Siloam are no more than foul puddles and cesspits, a morass from which the miasma rises that causes epidemics to rage here almost every summer. Cosmo says repeatedly that he is utterly horrified by the city."
"From the depths of the stage (as Cosmo repeatedly described it to Ambros) the Mirage image of an oasis appeared. A caravan emerged on to the stage from a grove of palms, crossed the stage, went down into the auditorium, passed amongst the spectators, who were craning round in amazement, and vanished as mysteriously as it had appeared. The terrible thing was ( Cosmo insisted) that he himself had somehow gone from the hall together with the caravan, and now could no longer tell where he was. On day, not long after, Aunt Fini continued, Cosmo really did disappear."
"The whole house was always very neat and tidy, down to the last detail, like the room in this photograph. Often it seemed to me as if Uncle Adelwarth was expecting a stranger to call at any moment. But no one ever did. Who would, said Aunt Fini. So I went over to Mamaroneck at least twice a week. Usually I sait in the blue armchair when I visited, and Uncle sat at his bureau, at a slight angle, as if he were about to write something or other. And from there he would tell me stories and many a strange tale. At times I thought the things he said he had witnessed, such as beheadings in Japan, were so improbable that I supposed he was suffering from Korsakov's syndrome: as you may know, said Aunt Fini, it is an illness which cause lost memories to be replaced by fantastic inventions. At any rat, the more Uncle Adelwarth told his stories, the more desolate he became. After Christmas '52 he fell into such a deep depression that, although he plainly felt a great need to talk about his life, he could no longer shape a single sentence, nor utter a single word, or any sound at all. He would sit at his bureau, turned a little to one side, one hand on the desktop pad, the other in his lap, staring steadily at the floor."
"You climb a bare hillside forever and find yourself once more in a shady valley, enter a house gate and are in the street, drift with the bustle in the bazaar gate and are suddenly amidst gravestones. For, like Death itself, the cemeteries of Constantinople are in the midst of life. For every one who departs this life they say, a cypress is planted. In their dense branches the turtle doves next. When night falls they stop cooing and partake of the silence of the dead. Once the silence descends, the bats come out and flit along their ways. Cosmo claims he can hear every one of their cries. - Whole districts of the city built entirely of wood. Houses of brown and grey weather-worn boards and planks, with flat-topped saddleback roofs and balconies. The Jewish quarter is built the same way. Walking through it today, we turn a corner and unexpectedly have a distant view of a blue line of mountains and the snowy summit of Olympus. For one awful heartbeat I imagine myself in Switzerland or at home again ..."
"The last entry in my Great-Uncle Adelwarth's little agenda book was written on the Feast of Stephen. Cosmo, it reads, had had a bad fever after their return to Jerusalem but was already on the way to recovery again. My great-uncle also noted that late the previous afternoon it had begun to snow and that, looking out of the hotel window at the city, white in the falling dusk, it made him think of times long gone. Memory, he added in a postscript, often strikes me as a kind of dumbness. It makes one's head heavy and giddy, as if one were not looking back down the receding perspectives of time but rather down on the earth from a great height, from one of those towers whose tops are lost to view in the clouds."
"I was still sitting up in our bed, which was open to the heavens, in the light of the swaying lantern. Cosmo, curled up slightly, was sleeping at my side. Suddenly a quail, perhaps frightened by the storm on the Sea, took refuge in his lap and remained there, calm now, as if it were its rightful place. But at daybreak, when Cosmo stirred, it ran away quickly across the level ground, as quail do, lifted off into the air, beat its wings tremendously fast fora moment, then extended them rigid and motionless and glided by a little thicket in an utterly beautiful curve, and was gone. It was shortly before sunrise."
"As for myself, on those Sundays in the utterly deserted hotel I would regularly be overcome by such sense of aimlessness and futility that I would go out, purely to preserve an illusion of purpose, and walk about amidst the city's immense and time-blackened nineteenth-century buildings, with no particular destination in mind. On those wanderings, when winter light flooded the deserted streets and squares for the few rare hours of real daylight, I never ceased to be amazed by the completeness with which anthracite-coloured Manchester, the city from which industrialization had spread across the entire world, displayed the clearly chronic process of its impoverishment and degradation to anyone who cared to see. Even the grandest of the buildings, such as the Royal Exchange, the Refuge Assurance Company, the Grosvenor Picture Palace, and indeed the Piccadilly Plaza, which had been built only a few years before, seemed so empty and abandoned that one might have supposed oneself surrounded by mysterious facades of theatrical backdrops. Everything then would appear utterly unreal to me, on those sombre December days when dusk was already falling at three o'clock, when the starlings, which descended upon the city in dark flocks that must have numbered hundreds of thousands, and, shrieking incessantly, settled close together on the ledges and copings of warehouses for the night."
"When I think back to our meetings in Trafford Park, it is invariably in the same place in front of a fresco painted by an unknown hand that showed a caravan moving forward form the remotest depths of the picture, across a wavy ridge of dunes, straight towards the beholder. The painter lacked the necessary skill, and the perspective he had chosen was a difficult one, as a result of which both the human figures and the beasts of burden were slightly distorted, so that, if you half shut your eyes, the scene looked like a mirage, quivering in the heat and light. And especially on days when Ferber had been working in charcoal, and the fine powdery dust had given his skin a metallic sheen, he seemed to have just emerged from the desert scene, or to belong in it. He himself once remarked, studying the gleam of graphite on the back of his hands, that in his dreams, both waking and by night, he had already crossed all the earth's deserts of sand and stone. But anyway, he went on, avoiding any further explanation, the darkening of his skin reminded him of an article he had recently read in the paper about silver poisoning, the symptoms of which were not uncommon among professional photographers. According to the article the British Medical Association's archives contained the description of an extreme case of silver poisoning: in the 1930s there was a photographic lab assistant in Manchester whose body had absorbed so much sliver in the course of a lengthy professional life that he had become a kind of photographic plate, which was apparent in the fact (as Ferber solemnly informed me) that the man's face and hands turned blue in strong light, or, as one might say, developed."
Friday, January 23, 2009
We're stranded again on sandbanks that formed in minutes while we pulled ashore for repairs. yesterday two soldiers cam aboard who have malaria and are heading for the frontier post to recuperate. They lie on the palm leaves and shiver with fever, but they never let go of the rifles that knock with monotous regularity against the metal deck.
I know it's naive and useless, but I've established certain precepts, one of my favorite exercises. It makes me feel better, makes me think I"m bringing order to something inside me. remnants of life at the Jesuit academy, they do no good, lead nowhere, but they have that quality of benign magic I always turn to when I feel the foundations giving way. Here they are:
Thinking about time, trying to find out if past and futre are valid and, in fact, exist, leads us into a labyrinth that is no less incomprehensible for being familiar.
Every day we're different, but we always forget that the same is true for others as well. Perhaps this is what people call solitude. If not, it's solemn imbecility.
When we lie to a woman, we revert to the helpless boy who has nowhere to turn in his vulnerability. Women, like plants, like jungle storms, like thudering waters, are nourished by the most obscure designs of heaven. It's best to learn this early on. If we don't, devasting surprises await us.
A knife in the body of a sleeping man. The bare lips of a wound that does not bleed. Vertigo, the death rattle, the final stillness. Like certain truths that life fires at us-insoluble, unerring, erratic, indifferent life.
Some things must be paid for, others remain debts forever. That's what we believe. The trap lies in the "must." We go on paying, we go on owing, and often we don't even know it.
Hawks screaming above the precipices and circling as they hunt their prey are the only image I can think of to evoke the men who judge, legislate, govern. Damn them.
A caravan doesn't symbolize or represent anything. Our mistake is to think it's going somewhere, leaving somewhere. The caravan exhausts its meaning by merely moving from place to place. The animals in the caravan know this, but the camel drivers don't. It will always be this way.
Putting your finger in the wound. A human occupation, a debased act no animal would be capable of. The inanity of prophets and fortune-tellers. A gang of charlatans, yet so many seek them out and listen to them.
Everything we can say about death, everything we try to embroider around the subject, is sterile, entirely fruitless labor. Wouldn't it be better just ot be quiet and wait? Don't ask that of humans. They must have a profound need for doom; perhaps they belong exclusively to its kingdom.
A woman's body under the rush of a mountain waterfll, her brief cries of surprise and joy, the movement of her limbs in the rapid foam that carries red coffee berries, sugarcane pulp, insects struggling to escape the current: this is the exemplary happiness that surely never comes again.
In the ruins of the Krak of the Knights of Rhodes, standing on a cliff near Tripoli, a nameless tombstone bears this inscription: "This was not where." Not a day goes by that I don't think about htose words. They're so clear, and at the same time they contain all the mystery it is our lot to endure.
Is it true we forget most of what has happened to us? Isn't it more likely that a portion of the past serves as a seed, an unnamed incentive for setting out again toward a destiny we had foolishly abandoned? A crude consolation. Yes, we do forget. And it's just as well."