Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ghosts, Aira Cesar

On a building site of a new, luxury apartment building, visitors looked up a t the strange, irregular for of the water tank that crowned the edifice, and the big parabolic dish that would supply television images to all the floors. On the edge of the dish, a sharp metallic edge on which no bird would have dared to perch, three completely naked men were siting, with their faces turned pup to the midday sun; no one saw them, of course."

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

The Book of Franza & Requiem for Fanny Goldmann, by Ingeborg Bachmann

introduction: darkness spoken, by Peter Filkins

"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

Yves Bonnefoy, Du mouvement et de l'immobilité de Douve (1953)

Du mouvement et de l'immobilité de Douve (1953)
On the Motion and Immobility of Douve (1953)

Vrai Nom

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.

True 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.

A Voice

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

How I Became a Nun, Cesar Aira

"I loved the way time was haphazard, the lottery the preliminary dialogues and the old lady's adorably hestitant voice made me image imagine it as a broad expanse of time, a speard from which to choose ...And Grandma's memory seemed to be tenuous, hanging from a thread about to snap ...but once she got going, her shaky voice faded, making way for the actors of the past ... This substitution was my fravorite part: the voice hesitating among memories and the mist dissolving to reveal the ultra-real clarity of the scene as it had happenned ..."

Friday, March 13, 2009

The King of the Ants, Zbigniew Herbert


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.