Au Café by Maurice Brange, Solita Solano and Djuna Barnes in Paris, 1922

“The unendurable is the beginning of the curve of joy.”

Djuna Barnes (12 June 1892 – 18 June 1982)

Questo di Djuna Barnes,Nightwood,pubblicato per la prima volta a Londra nel 1936,è considerato essere un romanzo cult non solo per il sensazionalismo della trama,contorta e con espliciti riferimenti all’omosessualità di Robin Vote,la protagonista,donna inquieta e alla tormentata ricerca di avventure,dapprima divenuta moglie di un barone “immaginario”,Felix Volkbein,investito del titolo nobiliare per vocazione al bello e romantico,amante del circo e del teatro,al quale darà un figlio,Guido,erede del presunto titolo di fantasia,poi,amante di una donna,Nora Flood,con la quale si trasferirà dagli Stati Uniti a Parigi,lasciando marito e figlio,quindi travolta da un turbinio bohemien di relazioni nella relazione,tra le braccia di Jenny Petherbridge,una 4 volte vedova che la terrà lontana da Nora e sarà all’origine della sua solitudine.
Quello a risaltare nel romanzo è lo stile gotico della prosa,il lirismo poetico e l’intricata trama rococò delle parafrasi,per questo,di difficile lettura-a volte comprensione,in inglese.
Centrale,nel romanzo, la figura del Dr. Matthew O’Connor,che si finge nel ruolo di dottore,in realtà un travestito,scampato alla Prima Guerra Mondiale,cui fantasia è quella di essere l’amante donna di un soldato,per buona parte del romanzo voce narrante,puntiglioso in cinismo,ironia e autocommiserazione.
Secondo la critica meno indulgente,il romanzo avrebbe avuto fortuna grazie all’entusiastica prefazione,del 1957,di T.S.Eliot,mentre proprio Eliot si fa scrupolo di sottolineare l’entusiasmo deriva tutto da spettacolarità,magnificenza,musicalità e ritmo della prosa
‘To say that NightWood will appeal primarily to readers of poetry does not mean that it is not a novel, but that it is so good a novel that only sensibilities trained on poetry can wholly appreciate it.
Di seguito una parte del libro tratta dal quinto capitolo-‘Watchman,what of the night?’

T. Renner, Improvisation for Djuna Barnes (Nightwood #3)

‘Have you ever thought of the night?’ the doctor inquired with a little irony; he was extremely put out, having expected someone else, though his favorite topic, and one which he talked on whenever he had a chance, was the night. ‘Yes,’ said Nora, and sat down on the only chair.’I’ve thought of it, but thinking about does not help.’
‘Have you’,said the doctor,’ever thought of the peculiar polarity of times and times; and of sleep? Sleep the slain white bull? Well,I, doctor Mathew-Mighty-grain-of-salt-Dante-O’Connor, will tell you how the day and the night are related by their division. The very constitution of twilight is a fabulous reconstruction of fear, fear bottom-out and wrong side up. Every day is thought upon and calculated, but the night is not premeditated. The Bible lies the one way, but the night gown the other. The Night, “Beware of that dark door!”‘
‘I used to think’, Nora said, ‘that people just went to sleep, or if they did not go to sleep, that they were themselves, but now,’ she lit the cigarette and her hands trembled,’ now I see that the night does something to a person’s identity, even when asleep.’
‘Ah!’ exclaimed the doctor. ‘Let a man lay himself down in the Great Bed and his “identity” is no longer his own, his “trust” is not with him, and his “willingness” is turned over and is of another permission. His distress is wild and anonymous. He sleeps in a Town of Darkness, member of a secret brotherhood. He neither knows himself nor his outriders, he berserks a fearful dimension and dismounts, miraculously, in bed!
‘His heart is tumbling in his chest, a dark place! Though some go into the night as a spoon breaks easy water, others go head foremost against a new connivance; their horns make a dry crying,like the wings of the locust,late come to their shedding.
‘Have you thought of the night, now, in other times,in foreign countries- in Paris? When the streets were gall high with things you wouldn’t have done for a dare’s sake, and the way it was then; with the pheasants’ necks and the goslings’ beaks dangling against the hocks of the gallants,and not a pavement in the place, and everything gutters for miles and miles, and a stench to it that plucked you by the nostrils and you were twenty leagues out! The cries telling the price of wine to such good effect that the dawn saw good clerks full of piss and vinegar, and blood-letting in side streets where some wild princess in a night shift of velvet howled under a leech; not to mention the palaces of Nymphenburg echoing back to Vienna with the night trip of late kings letting water into plush cans and fine woodwork, no, ‘he said looking at her sharply, ‘I can see you have not! You should, for the night has been going on for a long time.’
She said, ‘I’ve never known it before- I thought I did, but it was not knowing at all.’
‘Exactly,’ said the doctor,’ you think you knew, and you hadn’t even shuffled the cards- now the nights of the period are not the nights of another. Neither are the nights of one city the nights of another. Let us take Paris for an instance, and France for a fact. Ah,Mon Dieu! La nuit effroyable! La nuit, qui est une immense plaine, et le coeur qui est une petit extremite! Ah, good Mother mine, Notre Dame-de-bonne-garde! Intercede for me now, while yet I explain what I am coming to! French nights are those which all nations seek the world over- and have you noticed that? Ask Doctor Mighty O’Connor; the reason the doctor knows everything is because he’s been everywhere at the wrong time and has now become anonymous.’
‘But,’ Nora said,’I never thought of the night as a life at all- I’ve never lived it- why did she?’
‘I’m telling you of French nights at the moment,’the doctor went on,’and why we all go into them. The night and the day are two travels, and the French -gut-greedy and fist-tight though they often are- alone leave testimony of the two in the dawn, we tear up the one for the sake of the other, not so the Fremch.
‘And why is that, because they think of the two as one continually, and keep it before their mind as the monks who repeat,”Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me!” Some twelve thousand or more times a twenty-four hours, so that it is finally in the head, good or bad,without saying a word. Bowing down from the waist, the world over they go, that they may resolve about the Great Enigma- as a relative about a cradle- and the Great Enigma can’t be thought of unless you turn the head the other way, and come upon thinking with the eye that you fear, which is called the back of the head, it’s the one we use when looking at the beloved in a darl place, and she is long time coming from a great way. We swoon with the thickness of our own tongue when we say,” I Love You”, as in the eye of a child lost a long while will be found the contraction of that distance- a child going small in the claws of a beast, coming furiously up the furlongs of the iris.
We are but skin about a wind,with muscles clenched against mortality. We sleep in a long reproachful dust against ourselves. We are full to the gorge with our own names for misery. Life, the pasture in which the night feeds and prunes the cud that nourishes us to despair. Life, the permission to know death.We were created that the earth might be made sensible of her inhuman taste; and love that the body might be so dear that even the earth should roar with it. Yes, we who are full to the gorge with misery, should look well around, doubting everything seen, done, spoken, precisely because we have a word for it, and not its alchemy.
‘To think of the arcon it is necessary to become the tree, And the tree of night is the hardest tree to mount, the dourest tree to scale, the most difficult of branch, the most febrile to the touch, and sweats a resin and drips a pitch against the palm that computation has not gambled. Gurus, who, I trust you know, are Indian teachers, expect you to contemplate the acorn ten years at a stretch, and if, in that time, you no wiser about the nut, you are not very bright, and that may be the only certainty with which you will come away, which is a post-graduate melancholy- for no man can find a greater truth than his kidney will allow. So I, Doctor Matthew Mighty O’Connor, ask you to think of the night the day long, and of the day the night through, or at some reprieve of the brain it will come upon heavily- an engine stalling itself upon your chest, halting its wheels against your heart; unless you have made a roadway for it.
taken from Nightwood,by Djuna Barnes,1936
Tony Renner, Artist.