L'ombelico di Svesda



Martin Eden | Jack London | CHAPTER I

Demuth Charles, Incense of a New Church, 1921
Demuth Charles, Incense of a New Church, 1921

The one opened the door with a latch-key and went in, followed by a young fellow who awkwardly removed his cap. He wore rough clothes that smacked of the sea, and he was manifestly out of place in the spacious hall in which he found himself. He did not know what to do with his cap, and was stuffing it into his coat pocket when the other took it from him. The act was done quietly and naturally, and the awkward young fellow appreciated it. “He understands,” was his thought. “He’ll see me through all right.”
He walked at the other’s heels with a swing to his shoulders, and his legs spread unwittingly, as if the level floors were tilting up and sinking down to the heave and lunge of the sea. The wide rooms seemed
too narrow for his rolling gait, and to himself he was in terror lest his broad shoulders should collide with the doorways or sweep the bric-a-brac from the low mantel. He recoiled from side to side between the various objects and multiplied the hazards that in reality lodged only in his mind. Between a grand piano and a centre-table piled high with books was space for a half a dozen to walk abreast, yet he essayed it with trepidation. His heavy arms hung loosely at his sides. He did not know what to do with those arms and hands, and when, to his excited vision, one arm seemed liable to brush against the books on the table, he lurched away like a frightened horse, barely missing the piano stool. He watched the easy walk of the other in front of him, and for the first time realized that his walk was different from that of other men. He experienced a momentary pang of shame that he should walk so uncouthly. The sweat burst through the skin of his forehead in tiny beads, and he paused and mopped his bronzed face with his handkerchief.
“Hold on, Arthur, my boy,” he said, attempting to mask his anxiety with facetious utterance. “This is too much all at once for yours truly. Give me a chance to get my nerve. You know I didn’t want to come, an’ I guess your fam’ly ain’t hankerin’ to see me neither.” “That’s all right,” was the reassuring answer. “You mustn’t be frightened at us. We’re just homely people–Hello, there’s a letter for me.”
He stepped back to the table, tore open the envelope, and began to read, giving the stranger an opportunity to recover himself. And the stranger understood and appreciated. His was the gift of sympathy, understanding; and beneath his alarmed exterior that sympathetic process went on. He mopped his forehead dry and glanced about him with a controlled face, though in the eyes there was an expression such as wild animals betray when they fear the trap. He was surrounded by the unknown, apprehensive of what might happen, ignorant of what he should do, aware that he walked and bore himself awkwardly, fearful that every attribute and power of him was similarly afflicted. He was keenly sensitive, hopelessly self-conscious, and the amused glance that the other stole privily at him over the top of the letter burned into him like a dagger-thrust. He saw the glance, but he gave no sign, for among the things he had learned was discipline. Also, that dagger-thrust went to his pride. He cursed himself for having come, and at the same time resolved that, happen what would, having come, he would carry it through. The lines of his face hardened, and into his eyes came a fighting light. He looked about more
unconcernedly, sharply observant, every detail of the pretty interior registering itself on his brain. His eyes were wide apart; nothing in their field of vision escaped; and as they drank in the beauty before
them the fighting light died out and a warm glow took its place. He was responsive to beauty, and here was cause to respond.
An oil painting caught and held him. A heavy surf thundered and burst over an outjutting rock; lowering storm-clouds covered the sky; and, outside the line of surf, a pilot-schooner, close-hauled, heeled over
till every detail of her deck was visible, was surging along against a stormy sunset sky. There was beauty, and it drew him irresistibly. He forgot his awkward walk and came closer to the painting, very close. The beauty faded out of the canvas. His face expressed his bepuzzlement. He stared at what seemed a careless daub of paint, then stepped away. Immediately all the beauty flashed back into the canvas. “A trick picture,” was his thought, as he dismissed it, though in the midst of the multitudinous impressions he was receiving he found time to feel a prod of indignation that so much beauty should be sacrificed to make a trick. He did not know painting. He had been brought up on chromos and lithographs that were always definite and sharp, near or far. He had seen oil paintings, it was true, in the show windows of shops, but the glass of the windows had prevented his eager eyes from approaching too near.
He glanced around at his friend reading the letter and saw the books on the table. Into his eyes leaped a wistfulness and a yearning as promptly as the yearning leaps into the eyes of a starving man at sight of food. An impulsive stride, with one lurch to right and left of the shoulders, brought him to the table, where he began affectionately handling the books. He glanced at the titles and the authors’ names, read fragments of text, caressing the volumes with his eyes and hands, and, once, recognized a book he had read. For the rest, they were strange books and strange authors. He chanced upon a volume of Swinburne and began reading steadily, forgetful of where he was, his face glowing. Twice he closed
the book on his forefinger to look at the name of the author. Swinburne! he would remember that name. That fellow had eyes, and he had certainly seen color and flashing light. But who was Swinburne? Was he dead a hundred years or so, like most of the poets? Or was he alive still, and writing? He turned to the title-page . . . yes, he had written other books; well, he would go to the free library the first thing in the morning and try to get hold of some of Swinburne’s stuff. He went back to the text and lost himself. He did not notice that a young woman had entered the room. The first he knew was when he heard Arthur’s voice saying:- “Ruth, this is Mr. Eden.”

The book was closed on his forefinger, and before he turned he was thrilling to the first new impression, which was not of the girl, but of her brother’s words. Under that muscled body of his he was a mass of
quivering sensibilities. At the slightest impact of the outside world upon his consciousness, his thoughts, sympathies, and emotions leapt and played like lambent flame. He was extraordinarily receptive and responsive, while his imagination, pitched high, was ever at work establishing relations of likeness and difference. “Mr. Eden,” was what he had thrilled to–he who had been called “Eden,” or “Martin Eden,” or just “Martin,” all his life. And “_Mister_!” It was certainly going some, was his internal comment. His mind seemed to turn, on the instant, into a vast camera obscura, and he saw arrayed around his consciousness endless pictures from his life, of stoke-holes and forecastles, camps and beaches, jails and boozing-kens, fever-hospitals and slum streets, wherein the thread of association was the fashion in which he had been addressed in those various situations.
And then he turned and saw the girl. The phantasmagoria of his brain vanished at sight of her. She was a pale, ethereal creature, with wide, spiritual blue eyes and a wealth of golden hair. He did not know how she was dressed, except that the dress was as wonderful as she. He likened her to a pale gold flower upon a slender stem. No, she was a spirit, a divinity, a goddess; such sublimated beauty was not of the earth. Or perhaps the books were right, and there were many such as she in the upper walks of life. She might well be sung by that chap, Swinburne. Perhaps he had had somebody like her in mind when he painted that girl, Iseult, in the book there on the table. All this plethora of sight, and feeling, and thought occurred on the instant. There was no pause of the realities wherein he moved. He saw her hand coming out to his, and she looked him straight in the eyes as she shook hands, frankly, like a man. The women he had known did not shake hands that way. For that matter, most of them did not shake hands at all. A flood of associations, visions of various ways he had made the acquaintance of women, rushed into his mind and threatened to swamp it. But he shook them aside and looked at her. Never had he seen such a woman. The women he had known!
Immediately, beside her, on either hand, ranged the women he had known. For an eternal second he stood in the midst of a portrait gallery, wherein she occupied the central place, while about her were limned many
women, all to be weighed and measured by a fleeting glance, herself the unit of weight and measure. He saw the weak and sickly faces of the girls of the factories, and the simpering, boisterous girls from the
south of Market. There were women of the cattle camps, and swarthy cigarette-smoking women of Old Mexico. These, in turn, were crowded out by Japanese women, doll-like, stepping mincingly on wooden clogs; by Eurasians, delicate featured, stamped with degeneracy; by full-bodied South-Sea-Island women, flower-crowned and brown-skinned. All these were blotted out by a grotesque and terrible nightmare brood–frowsy, shuffling creatures from the pavements of Whitechapel, gin-bloated hags of the stews, and all the vast hell’s following of harpies, vile-mouthed and filthy, that under the guise of monstrous female form prey upon sailors, the scrapings of the ports, the scum and slime of the human pit.
“Won’t you sit down, Mr. Eden?” the girl was saying. “I have been looking forward to meeting you ever since Arthur told us. It was brave of you”
He waved his hand deprecatingly and muttered that it was nothing at all, what he had done, and that any fellow would have done it. She noticed that the hand he waved was covered with fresh abrasions, in the process of healing, and a glance at the other loose-hanging hand showed it to be in the same condition. Also, with quick, critical eye, she noted a scar on his cheek, another that peeped out from under the hair of the forehead, and a third that ran down and disappeared under the starched collar. She repressed a smile at sight of the red line that marked the chafe of the collar against the bronzed neck. He was evidently unused to stiff collars. Likewise her feminine eye took in the clothes he wore, the cheap and unaesthetic cut, the wrinkling of the coat across the shoulders, and the series of wrinkles in the sleeves that advertised bulging biceps muscles.
While he waved his hand and muttered that he had done nothing at all, he was obeying her behest by trying to get into a chair. He found time to admire the ease with which she sat down, then lurched toward a chair facing her, overwhelmed with consciousness of the awkward figure he was cutting. This was a new experience for him. All his life, up to then, he had been unaware of being either graceful or awkward. Such thoughts of self had never entered his mind. He sat down gingerly on the edge of the chair, greatly worried by his hands. They were in the way wherever he put them. Arthur was leaving the room, and Martin Eden followed his exit with longing eyes. He felt lost, alone there in the room with that pale spirit of a woman. There was no bar-keeper upon whom to call for drinks, no small boy to send around the corner for a can of beer and by means of that social fluid start the amenities of friendship flowing.

“You have such a scar on your neck, Mr. Eden,” the girl was saying. “How did it happen? I am sure it must have been some adventure.”

“A Mexican with a knife, miss,” he answered, moistening his parched lips and clearing hip throat. “It was just a fight. After I got the knife away, he tried to bite off my nose.”

Baldly as he had stated it, in his eyes was a rich vision of that hot, starry night at Salina Cruz, the white strip of beach, the lights of the sugar steamers in the harbor, the voices of the drunken sailors in the distance, the jostling stevedores, the flaming passion in the Mexican’s face, the glint of the beast-eyes in the starlight, the sting of the steel in his neck, and the rush of blood, the crowd and the cries, the two bodies, his and the Mexican’s, locked together, rolling over and over and tearing up the sand, and from away off somewhere the mellow tinkling of a guitar. Such was the picture, and he thrilled to the memory of it, wondering if the man could paint it who had painted the pilot-schooner on the wall. The white beach, the stars, and the lights of the sugar steamers would look great, he thought, and midway on the sand the dark group of figures that surrounded the fighters. The knife occupied a place in the picture, he decided, and would show well, with a sort of gleam, in the light of the stars. But of all this no hint had crept into his speech. “He tried to bite off my nose,” he concluded.

“Oh,” the girl said, in a faint, far voice, and he noticed the shock in her sensitive face.

He felt a shock himself, and a blush of embarrassment shone faintly on his sunburned cheeks, though to him it burned as hotly as when his cheeks had been exposed to the open furnace-door in the fire-room. Such sordid things as stabbing affrays were evidently not fit subjects for conversation with a lady. People in the books, in her walk of life, did not talk about such things–perhaps they did not know about them, either.

There was a brief pause in the conversation they were trying to get started. Then she asked tentatively about the scar on his cheek. Even as she asked, he realized that she was making an effort to talk his talk, and he resolved to get away from it and talk hers. “It was just an accident,” he said, putting his hand to his cheek. “One night, in a calm, with a heavy sea running, the main-boom-lift carried away, an’ next the tackle. The lift was wire, an’ it was threshin’ around like a snake. The whole watch was tryin’ to grab it, an’ I rushed in an’ got swatted.”

“Oh,” she said, this time with an accent of comprehension, though secretly his speech had been so much Greek to her and she was wondering what a lift was and what swatted meant.

“This man Swineburne,” he began, attempting to put his plan into execution and pronouncing the i long.
“Swineburne,” he repeated, with the same mispronunciation. “The poet.”
“Swinburne,” she corrected.
“Yes, that’s the chap,” he stammered, his cheeks hot again. “How long since he died?”
“Why, I haven’t heard that he was dead.” She looked at him curiously. “Where did you make his acquaintance?”
“I never clapped eyes on him,” was the reply. “But I read some of his poetry out of that book there on the table just before you come in. How do you like his poetry?”

And thereat she began to talk quickly and easily upon the subject he had suggested. He felt better, and settled back slightly from the edge of the chair, holding tightly to its arms with his hands, as if it might get away from him and buck him to the floor. He had succeeded in making her talk her talk, and while she rattled on, he strove to follow her, marvelling at all the knowledge that was stowed away in that pretty head of hers, and drinking in the pale beauty of her face. Follow her he did, though bothered by unfamiliar words that fell glibly from her lips and by critical phrases and thought-processes that were foreign to his mind, but that nevertheless stimulated his mind and set it tingling. Here was
intellectual life, he thought, and here was beauty, warm and wonderful as he had never dreamed it could be. He forgot himself and stared at her with hungry eyes. Here was something to live for, to win to, to fight for–ay, and die for. The books were true. There were such women in the world. She was one of them. She lent wings to his imagination, and great, luminous canvases spread themselves before him whereon loomed vague, gigantic figures of love and romance, and of heroic deeds for woman’s sake–for a pale woman, a flower of gold. And through the swaying, palpitant vision, as through a fairy mirage, he stared at the real woman, sitting there and talking of literature and art. He listened as well, but he stared, unconscious of the fixity of his gaze or of the fact that all that was essentially masculine in his nature was shining in his eyes. But she, who knew little of the world of men, being a woman, was keenly aware of his burning eyes. She had never had men look at her in such fashion, and it embarrassed her. She stumbled and halted in her utterance. The thread of argument slipped from her. He frightened her, and at the same time it was strangely pleasant to be so looked upon. Her training warned her of peril and of wrong, subtle, mysterious, luring; while her instincts rang clarion-voiced through her being, impelling her to hurdle caste and place and gain to this traveller from another world, to this uncouth young fellow with lacerated hands and a line of raw red caused by the unaccustomed linen at his throat, who, all too evidently, was soiled and tainted by ungracious existence. She was clean, and her cleanness revolted; but she was woman, and she was just beginning to learn the paradox of woman.
“As I was saying–what was I saying?” She broke off abruptly and laughed merrily at her predicament.
“You was saying that this man Swinburne failed bein’ a great poet because–an’ that was as far as you got, miss,” he prompted, while to himself he seemed suddenly hungry, and delicious little thrills crawled up and down his spine at the sound of her laughter. Like silver, he thought to himself, like tinkling silver bells; and on the instant, and for an instant, he was transported to a far land, where under pink cherry blossoms, he smoked a cigarette and listened to the bells of the peaked pagoda calling straw-sandalled devotees to worship.
“Yes, thank you,” she said. “Swinburne fails, when all is said, because he is, well, indelicate. There are many of his poems that should never be read. Every line of the really great poets is filled with beautiful truth, and calls to all that is high and noble in the human. Not a line of the great poets can be spared without impoverishing the world by that much.”
“I thought it was great,” he said hesitatingly, “the little I read. I had no idea he was such a–a scoundrel. I guess that crops out in his other books.”
“There are many lines that could be spared from the book you were reading,” she said, her voice primly firm and dogmatic.
“I must ‘a’ missed ‘em,” he announced. “What I read was the real goods. It was all lighted up an’ shining, an’ it shun right into me an’ lighted me up inside, like the sun or a searchlight. That’s the way it landed on me, but I guess I ain’t up much on poetry, miss.”
He broke off lamely. He was confused, painfully conscious of his inarticulateness. He had felt the bigness and glow of life in what he had read, but his speech was inadequate. He could not express what he felt, and to himself he likened himself to a sailor, in a strange ship, on a dark night, groping about in the unfamiliar running rigging. Well, he decided, it was up to him to get acquainted in this new world. He had never seen anything that he couldn’t get the hang of when he wanted to and it was about time for him to want to learn to talk the things that were inside of him so that she could understand. She was bulking large on his horizon.
“Now Longfellow–” she was saying.
“Yes, I’ve read ‘m,” he broke in impulsively, spurred on to exhibit and make the most of his little store of book knowledge, desirous of showing her that he was not wholly a stupid clod. “‘The Psalm of Life,’
‘Excelsior,’ an’ . . . I guess that’s all.”
She nodded her head and smiled, and he felt, somehow, that her smile was tolerant, pitifully tolerant. He was a fool to attempt to make a pretence that way. That Longfellow chap most likely had written countless books of poetry.
“Excuse me, miss, for buttin’ in that way. I guess the real facts is that I don’t know nothin’ much about such things. It ain’t in my class. But I’m goin’ to make it in my class.”
It sounded like a threat. His voice was determined, his eyes were flashing, the lines of his face had grown harsh. And to her it seemed that the angle of his jaw had changed; its pitch had become unpleasantly aggressive. At the same time a wave of intense virility seemed to surge out from him and impinge upon her.
“I think you could make it in–in your class,” she finished with a laugh. “You are very strong.”
Her gaze rested for a moment on the muscular neck, heavy corded, almost bull-like, bronzed by the sun, spilling over with rugged health and strength. And though he sat there, blushing and humble, again she felt drawn to him. She was surprised by a wanton thought that rushed into her mind. It seemed to her that if she could lay her two hands upon that neck that all its strength and vigor would flow out to her. She was shocked by this thought. It seemed to reveal to her an undreamed depravity in her nature. Besides, strength to her was a gross and brutish thing. Her ideal of masculine beauty had always been slender gracefulness. Yet the thought still persisted. It bewildered her that she should desire to place her hands on that sunburned neck. In truth, she was far from robust, and the need of her body and mind was for strength. But she did not know it. She knew only that no man had ever affected her before as this one had, who shocked her from moment to moment with his awful grammar.
“Yes, I ain’t no invalid,” he said. “When it comes down to hard-pan, I can digest scrap-iron. But just now I’ve got dyspepsia. Most of what you was sayin’ I can’t digest. Never trained that way, you see. I like books and poetry, and what time I’ve had I’ve read ‘em, but I’ve never thought about ‘em the way you have. That’s why I can’t talk about ‘em. I’m like a navigator adrift on a strange sea without chart or compass. Now I want to get my bearin’s. Mebbe you can put me right. How did you learn all this you’ve ben talkin’?”
“By going to school, I fancy, and by studying,” she answered.
“I went to school when I was a kid,” he began to object.
“Yes; but I mean high school, and lectures, and the university.”
“You’ve gone to the university?” he demanded in frank amazement. He felt that she had become remoter from him by at least a million miles.
“I’m going there now. I’m taking special courses in English.”
He did not know what “English” meant, but he made a mental note of that item of ignorance and passed on.
“How long would I have to study before I could go to the university?” he asked.
She beamed encouragement upon his desire for knowledge, and said: “That depends upon how much studying you have already done. You have never attended high school? Of course not. But did you finish grammar
“I had two years to run, when I left,” he answered. “But I was always honorably promoted at school.”
The next moment, angry with himself for the boast, he had gripped the arms of the chair so savagely that every finger-end was stinging. At the same moment he became aware that a woman was entering the room. He saw the girl leave her chair and trip swiftly across the floor to the newcomer. They kissed each other, and, with arms around each other’s waists, they advanced toward him. That must be her mother, he thought. She was a tall, blond woman, slender, and stately, and beautiful. Her gown was what he might expect in such a house. His eyes delighted in the graceful lines of it. She and her dress together reminded him of women on the stage. Then he remembered seeing similar grand ladies and gowns entering the London theatres while he stood and watched and the policemen shoved him back into the drizzle beyond the awning. Next his mind leaped to the Grand Hotel at Yokohama, where, too, from the sidewalk, he had
seen grand ladies. Then the city and the harbor of Yokohama, in a thousand pictures, began flashing before his eyes. But he swiftly dismissed the kaleidoscope of memory, oppressed by the urgent need of the
present. He knew that he must stand up to be introduced, and he struggled painfully to his feet, where he stood with trousers bagging at the knees, his arms loose-hanging and ludicrous, his face set hard for
the impending ordeal.

taken from Martin Eden, Jack London, 1909


Sunset Park | Paul Auster | Excerpt

Untitled, RomieDepomie via flickr
Untitled, RomieDepomie via flickr

For almost a year now, he has been taking photographs of abandoned things. There are at least two jobs every day, sometimes as many as six or seven, and each time he and his cohorts enter another house, they are confronted by the things, the innumerable cast-off things left behind by the departed families. The absent people have all fled in haste, in shame, in confusion, and it is certain that wherever they are living now (if they have found a place to live and are not camped out in the streets) their new dwellings are smaller than the houses they have lost. Each house is a story of failure — of bankruptcy and default, of debt and foreclosure — and he has taken it upon himself to document the last, lingering traces of those scattered lives in order to prove that the vanished families were once here, that the ghosts of people he will never see and never know are still present in the discarded things strewn about their empty houses.

The work is called trashing out, and he belongs to a four-man crew employed by the Dunbar Realty Corporation, which subcontracts its “home preservation” services to the local banks that now own the properties in question. The sprawling flatlands of south Florida are filled with these orphaned structures, and because it is in the interest of the banks to resell them as quickly as possible, the vacated houses must be cleaned, repaired, and made ready to be shown to prospective buyers. In a collapsing world of economic ruin and relentless, ever-expanding hardship, trashing out is one of the few thriving businesses in the area. No doubt he is lucky to have found this job. He doesn’t know how much longer he can bear it, but the pay is decent, and in a land of fewer and fewer jobs, it is nothing if not a good job.

In the beginning, he was stunned by the disarray and the filth, the neglect. Rare is the house he enters that has been left in pristine condition by its former owners. More often there will have been an eruption of violence and anger, a parting rampage of capricious vandalism — from the open taps of sinks and bathtubs overflowing with water to sledge-hammered, smashed-in walls or walls covered with obscene graffiti or walls pocked with bullet holes, not to mention the ripped-out copper pipes, the bleach-stained carpets, the piles of shit deposited on the living room floor. Those are extreme examples, perhaps, impulsive acts triggered by the rage of the dispossessed, disgusting but understandable statements of despair, but even if he is not always gripped by revulsion when he enters a house, he never opens a door without a feeling of dread. Inevitably, the first thing to contend with is the smell, the onslaught of sour air rushing into his nostrils, the ubiquitous, commingled aromas of mildew, rancid milk, cat litter, crud-caked toilet bowls, and food rotting on the kitchen counter. Not even fresh air pouring in through open windows can wipe out the smells; not even the tidiest, most circumspect removal can erase the stench of defeat.

Then, always, there are the objects, the forgotten possessions, the abandoned things. By now, his photographs number in the thousands, and among his burgeoning archive can be found pictures of books, shoes, and oil paintings, pianos and toasters, dolls, tea sets, and dirty socks, televisions and board games, party dresses and tennis racquets, sofas, silk lingerie, caulking guns, thumbtacks, plastic action figures, tubes of lipstick, rifles, discolored mattresses, knives and forks, poker chips, a stamp collection, and a dead canary lying at the bottom of its cage. He has no idea why he feels compelled to take these pictures. He understands that it is an empty pursuit, of no possible benefit to anyone, and yet each time he walks into a house, he senses that the things are calling out to him, speaking to him in the voices of the people who are no longer there, asking him to be looked at one last time before they are carted away. The other members of the crew make fun of him for this obsessive picture taking, but he pays them no heed. They are of little account in his opinion, and he despises them all. Brain-dead Victor, the crew boss; stuttering, chatterbox Paco; and fat, wheezing Freddy — the three musketeers of doom. The law says that all salvageable objects above a certain value must be handed over to the bank, which is obliged to return them to their owners, but his co-workers grab whatever they please and never give it a second thought. They consider him a fool for turning his back on these spoils — the bottles of whiskey, the radios, the CD players, the archery equipment, the dirty magazines — but all he wants are his pictures — not things, but the pictures of things. For some time now, he has made it his business to say as little as possible when he is on the job. Paco and Freddy have taken to calling him El Mudo.

He is twenty-eight years old, and to the best of his knowledge he has no ambitions. No burning ambitions, in any case, no clear idea of what building a plausible future might entail for him. He knows that he will not stay in Florida much longer, that the moment is coming when he will feel the need to move on again, but until that need ripens into a necessity to act, he is content to remain in the present and not look ahead. If he has accomplished anything in the seven and a half years since he quit college and struck out on his own, it is this ability to live in the present, to confine himself to the here and now, and although it might not be the most laudable accomplishment one can think of, it has required considerable discipline and self-control for him to achieve it. To have no plans, which is to say, to have no longings or hopes, to be satisfied with your lot, to accept what the world doles out to you from one sunrise to the next — in order to live like that you must want very little, as little as humanly possible.

Bit by bit, he has pared down his desires to what is now approaching a bare minimum. He has cut out smoking and drinking, he no longer eats in restaurants, he does not own a television, a radio, or a computer. He would like to trade in his car for a bicycle, but he can’t get rid of the car, since the distances he must travel for work are too great. The same applies to the cell phone he carries around in his pocket, which he would dearly love to toss in the garbage, but he needs it for work as well and therefore can’t do without it. The digital camera was an indulgence, perhaps, but given the drear and slog of the endless trash-out rut, he feels it is saving his life. His rent is low, since he lives in a small apartment in a poor neighborhood, and beyond spending money on bedrock necessities, the only luxury he allows himself is buying books, paperback books, mostly novels, American novels, British novels, foreign novels in translation, but in the end books are not luxuries so much as necessities, and reading is an addiction he has no wish to be cured of.

If not for the girl, he would probably leave before the month was out. He has saved up enough money to go anywhere he wants, and there is no question that he has had his fill of the Florida sun — which, after much study, he now believes does the soul more harm than good. It is a Machiavellian sun in his opinion, a hypocritical sun, and the light it generates does not illuminate things but obscures them — blinding you with its constant, overbright effulgences, pounding on you with its blasts of vaporous humidity, destabilizing you with its miragelike reflections and shimmering waves of nothingness. It is all glitter and dazzle, but it offers no substance, no tranquillity, no respite. Still, it was under this sun that he first saw the girl, and because he can’t talk himself into giving her up, he continues to live with the sun and try to make his peace with it.

Taken from ‘Sunset Park’, A Novel, by Paul Auster, 2010

“Deep down, I don’t believe it takes any special talent for a person to lift himself off the ground and hover in the air. We all have it in us—every man, woman, and child—and with enough hard work and concentration, every human being is capable of…the feat….You must learn to stop being yourself. That’s where it begins, and everything else follows from that. You must let yourself evaporate. Let your muscles go limp, breathe until you feel your soul pouring out of you, and then shut your eyes. That’s how it’s done. The emptiness inside your body grows lighter than the air around you. Little by little, you begin to weigh less than nothing. You shut your eyes; you spread your arms; you let yourself evaporate. And then, little by little, you lift yourself off the ground. Like so.” Paul Auster, Mr. Vertigo

Anka Zhuravleva Distorted Gravity
Anka Zhuravleva Distorted Gravity

Anka Zhuravleva photos, paintings, drawings.


Saul Leiter‘, ‘Phone Call’, NY, 1957

La mancata consegna di un premio Pulitzer alla letteratura per l’edizione di quest’anno ha lasciato tutti interdetti e aperto dibattiti circa la questione. Saul Bellow è l’unico scrittore americano ad essere stato insignito di 3 National book awards con i romanzi ‘The adventures of Augie March’, ‘Herzog’, e ‘Mr Sammler’s Planet‘; nel 1975 di un Pulitzer Prize per il romanzo Humboldt’s Gift; nel 1976 di un Nobel Prize in Literature ‘for the human understanding and subtle analysis of contemporary culture that are combined in his work’
Dangling man, primo dei suoi romanzi pubblicato nel 1944, anticipa l’intera produzione letteraria dello scrittore e sembra rispondere alle polemiche circa il futuro della letteratura. Bellow colloca l’uomo al centro dell’indagine letteraria e lo fa ponendo particolareggiata attenzione ai conflitti che derivano dal confronto con la società che lo circonda, lo opprime, lo ‘strania’ e verso cui prova un sentimento di alienazione. Il più della critica concerne stile della scrittura e gli elementi di cui Bellow si serve per configurare background e ragioni di un conflitto che rappresenta il teorema uomo – umanità – società moderna. E’ certo la sensibilità di Bellow nel trattare la materia umana deriva lui dall’essere figlio di mercanti ebrei emigrati in Canada e vissuti in Russia. Saul è ultimo di quattro figli cresciuti a Chicago e nati a Montreal. I genitori parlano fra loro ebraico e russo, i ragazzi inglese, yiddish e francese. L’identità culturale di Bellow attinge dalla ricca tradizione ebraica, francese e russa, e converge nella mistificazione e conseguente disillusione del sogno americano; sono gli anni della Grande Depressione, della grande immigrazione, del grande Gatsby, del quarto potere, della chiamata alle armi, del calypso e del rockabilly. Trovo il virtuosismo dell’America condensato tutto nell’intensità accelerata di quegli anni di grave crisi sociale che hanno piegato alle ginocchia milioni di persone e rimesso in discussione le sorti di una nazione intera. Io credo è stato soltanto allora che i bianchi si sono finalmente uniti ai neri, centinaia di lingue si sono mescolate alla lingua, decine di nazioni si sono strette in una, capace di risollevarsi dalle macerie attraverso duro lavoro, sacrifici e tanta immaginazione. Del virtuosismo americano amo il senso della possibilità, quel why not? che è ottimismo e apertura, un accogliere, uno sfidare la sorte, un giocare la partita, un pensare straordinario, immaginifico, lungimirante, in funzione del domani
Secondo il dizionario inglese che ho qui con me, to dangle ha due significati:
transitive and intransitive verb hang loosely: to swing or hang loosely, or cause something to swing or hang loosely
transitive verb offer something as inducement: to offer or display something as an enticement or inducement
Dangling man sembra appunto offrire an inducement, uno stimolo, un motivo, un incentivo a considerare la storia un punto d’arrivo e un’occasione di partenza, e l’uomo un ‘mezzo’, letteralmente un mezzo, a cui viene chiesto di attraversare il presente consapevolmente. In Dangling man Bellow attenta a descrivere da cosa deriva quella consapevolezza, che è coscienza individuale dunque esito sociale. Quella consapevolezza nasce da una colluttazione ideale di principi e forze opposte, ora l’esercizio di una volontà di potenza, il trionfo del Romanticismo, l’eroismo del Titano, ora l’assurdità delle guerre, un crollo di valori, l’oltre uomo in crisi esistenzialista, sviscerato dalla psicoanalisi e teso al  nichilismo e all’isolazione.
Il romanzo è una retrospettiva che procede per date e minuziose digressioni all’infanzia e alla giovinezza. Joseph, il protagonista, sembra guardarsi allo specchio e non riconoscersi nell’immagine che vede di sè; si agita, è nervoso, perde il senno, sembra non avere più il controllo della propria vita e sulle proprie emozioni
L’edizione che ho qui, della Penguin, è introdotta da J. M. Coetzee, che del romanzo dice nel finale
‘Dangling Man is long on reflection, short on action. It occupies the uneasy ground between the novella proper and the personal essay or confession. Various personages come onstage and exchange words with the protagonist, but beyond Joseph in his two sketchy manifestations there are no characters, properly speaking. Behind the figure of Joseph can be discerned the lonely, humiliated clerks of Gogol and Dostoevsky, brooding upon revenge; the Roquentin of Sartre’s Nausea, the scholar who undergoes a strange metaphysical experience that estranges him from the world; and the lonely young poet of Rilke’s Notebook of Malte Laurids Brigge. In this slim first book Bellow has not yet developed a vehicle adequate to the kind of novel he is feeling his way towards, one that will offer the customary novelistic satisfactions, including involvement in what feels like real- life conflict in a real-life world, and yet leave the author free to deploy his reading in European literature and thought in order to explore problems in contemporary life. For that step in Bellow’s evolution we will have to wait for Herzog (1964)
J. M. Coetzee
Ho amato questo libro dalla prima all’ultima pagina, e dalla prima all’ultima pagina questo libro ha lenito un po’ della mia solitudine e fatto stare bene, fossero state le parole un abbraccio, una mano che tiene la mano, una lettera che dà conforto.
Le parti del libro da citare sarebbero tantissime, ma ci sono due passi che fra tutti mi hanno colpita particolarmente

___________________________________________________________January 5

THIS AFTERNOON I emptied the closet of all its shoes and sat on the floor polishing them. Surrounded by rage, saddle soap, and brushes – the brown light of the street pressing in at the window, and the sparrows bickering in the dead twigs – I felt tranquil for a while and, as I set Iva’s shoes out in a row, I grew deeply satisfied. It was a borrowed satisfaction; it was doing something I had done as a child. In Montreal, on such afternoon as this, I often asked permission to spread a paper on the sitting- room floor and shine all the shoes in the house, including Aunt Dina’s with their long tongues and scores of eyelets. When I thrust my arm into one of her shoes it reached well above the elbow and I could feel the brush against my arm through the soft leather. The brow fog lay in St Dominique Street; in the sitting room, however, the stove shone on the devenport and on the oilcloth and on my forehead, drawing the skin pleasantly. I did not clean shoes because I was praised for it, but because of the work and the sensations of the room, closed off from the wet and the fog of the street, with its locked shutters and the faint green of the petal pipes along the copings of its houses. Nothing could have tempted me out of the house.
I have never found another street that resembled St Dominique. It was in a slum between a market and a hospital. I was generally intensely preoccupied with what went on in it and watched from the stairs and the windows. Little since then has worked upon me with such force as, say, the sight of a driver trying to raise his fallen horse, of a funeral passing through the snow, or of a cripple who taunted his brother. And the pungency and staleness of its stores and cellars, the dogs, the boys, the French and immigrant women, the beggars with sores and deformities whose like I was not to meet again until I was old enough to read of Villon’s Paris, the very breezes in the narrow course of that street, have remained so clear to me that I sometimes think it it the only place where i was ever allowed to encounter reality. My father blamed himself bitterly for the poverty that forced him to bring us up in a slum and worried lest I see too much. And I did see, in a curtainless room near the market, a man rearing over a blond woman on his lap. But less easily forgotten were a cage with a rat in it thrown on a bonfire, and two quarrelling drunkards, one of whom walked away bleeding, drops falling from his head like the first slow drops of a heavy rain in summer, a crooked line of drops left on the pavement as he walked.

_____________________________________________________________January 6

ABT HAS sent me a copy of a pamphlet he wrote on the government of the Territories. Expects a flattering comment, no doubt, and I shall have to rig one up. He will want me to tell him that no one else could have written such a pampleth. Suppose I were try to tell him what I thought of him. He would reply coldly, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ He has a way of turning aside everything he has no desire to understand.
Abt, more than anyone I have known, has lived continually in need of being consequential. Early in life he discovered that he was quicker, abler, than the rest of us, and that he could easily outstrip us in learning and in skills. He felt he could be great in anything he chose. We roomed together in Madison as freshmen. He was very busy that first year keeping us all his accomplishments, his music, his politics, his class work. Living with him had a bag effect on me, for I withdrew from any field he entered. People came from other campuses to consult him on doctrinal matters; no one had as much out-of-the-way information as he; he read foreign political journals the rest of us had never heard of, and reports of party congresses, those dun, mimeographed sheets on international decisions in France and Spain. No one was so subtle with opponents. Nor did many students get as much attention as he got from his teachers. A few were afraid of him and learned to avoid challenging him publicly. late afternoons, he played the piano. I would often stop by for him at the music building on the way to dinner and spend half an hour listening. He did not waste time maturing, he did not make any of the obvious mistakes. His hold was too good. That winter he was Lenin, Mozard, and Locke all rolled into one. But there was unfortunately not enough time to be all three. And so, in the spring, he passed through a crisis. It was necessary to make a choice. But, whatever it was he chose, that would be the most important. How could it be otherwise? He gave up attending meetings and practising the piano, he banished the party reports as trash, and decided to become a political philosopher. There was a general purge. Everything else went.
Anti-Duhring and The Critique of the Gotha Program sank to the rear of the bottom shelf of his bookcase and were supplanted at the top by Bentham and Locke. Now he had decided, and in dead earnestness the followed greatness. Inevitably, he fell short of his models. He would never admit that he wanted to become another Locke, but there was, wearing himself thin with the effort of the emulation, increasingly angry at himself, and unable to admit that the scale of his ambition was defeating him.
He is stubborn. Just as, in the old days, it disgraced him to confess that he was not familiar with a book or a statement that came under his jurisdiction, he now cannot acknowledge that his plan has miscarried. But then, it bothers him to be found guilty even of small errors. He does not like to forget a date or a name or the proper form of a foreign verb. He cannot be wrong, that is his difficulty. If you warn him that there is a fissure at his feet, he answers, ‘ no, you must be mistaken.’ But when it can no longer be ignored he says, ‘Do you see it?’ as though he has discovered it.
Of course, we suffer from bottomless avidity. Our lives are so precious to us, we are so watchful of waste. Or perhaps a better name for it would be the Sense of Personal Destiny. Tes, I think that is better than avidity. Shall my life one-thousandth of an inch fall short of its ultimate possibility? It is a different thing to value oneself, and to prize oneself crazily. And then there are our plants, idealizations. These are dangerous, too. They can consume us like parasites, eat us, drink us, and leave us lifelessly prostrate. And yet we are always inviting the parasite, as if we were eager to be drained and eaten.
It is because we have been taught there is no limit to what a man can be. Six hundred years ago, a man was what he was born to be. Satan and Church, representing God, did battle over him. He, by reason of his choice, partially decided the outcome. But whether, after life, he went to hell or to heaven, his place among other men was given. It could be contested. But, since, the stage has been reset and human being only walk on it, and, under this revision, we have, instead, history to answer to. We were important enough then for our souls to be fought over. Now, each of us is responsible for his own salvation, which is in his greatness. And that, that greatness, is the rock our hearts are abraded on. Great minds, great beauties, great lovers and criminals surround us. from the great sadness and desperation of Werthers and Don Juans we went to the great ruling images of Napoleons; from these to murderers who had that right over victims because they were greater than the victims; to men who felt privileged to approach others with a whip; to schoolboys and clerks who roared like revolutionary lions; to those pimps and subway creatures, debaters in midnight cafeterias who believed they could be great in treachery and catch the throats of those they felt were sound and well in the lassos of their morbidity; to dreams of greatly beautiful shadows embracing on a flawless screen. because of these things we hate immoderately and punish ourselves and one another immoderately. The fear of lagging pursues and maddens us. The fear lies in us like a cloud. It makes an inner climate of darkness. And occasionally there is a storm and hate and wounding rain out of us.

Text entirely taken from ‘Dangling Man’, by Saul Bellow, 1944

The Experimental Plagiarism. A Fake Novel Of Real Novels

Charles Earland – Intergalactic Love Song, off l’album Odyssey, del 1976. Ho impiegato settimane a ricordare titolo e autore di questo brano che, finalmente, ieri notte mi è venuto in mente e sembra confermare un sospetto di plagio. Il brano originale che me lo ricorda è di Donald Byrd, Flight time, del 1973. Il pezzo di Earland ne è forse il rifacimento? Gli accordi iniziali di Intergalactic Love song sembrano ricordare quelli di Flight time e confermare il sospetto.
Ancora, qualche mese fa mi è capitato leggere un post su ‘You are not so smart‘, comparso poi in un altro blog, di un altro blogger americano, che si è indebitamente impossessato dell’articolo postandolo nel proprio blog e spacciandolo per proprio (il pezzo originale:The Overjustification Effect « You Are Not So Smart).
Il plagio, è il caso di dirlo, non è una novità; quell’articolo comparso a pagina 52 del New Yorker di febbraio,’The Plagiarist’s Tale‘ (Quentin Rowan, a.k.a. Q. R. Markham, Plagiarism Addict : The New Yorker, da me citato nel pezzo su Beckett della settimana scorsa), racconta appunto di questo scrittore esordiente americano, Quentin Rowan, cui romanzo ‘Assassin of Secrets’ è stato ritirato dal mercato perchè contenente una copiosa riproduzione di paragrafi ‘ritagliati’ da altri romanzi e indebitamente ‘incollati’ nel proprio. Non conoscessimo certe dinamiche che ruotano intorno al settore editoriale, verrebbe da chiedersi com’è possibile nessuno, prima di pubblicarlo, si sia accorto del plagio; persino la critica aveva annunciato il romanzo come un ‘debutto sfavillante’ nel genere noir. Un classico delle bufale, in poche parole. Che si sia trattato di una trovata pubblicitaria soltanto?
‘Originality is a relative concept in literature. As writers from T. S. Eliot to Harold Bloom have pointed out, ideas are doomed to be rehashed. This wasn’t always regarded as a problem. Roman writers subscribed to the idea of imitatio: they viewed their role as emulating and reworking earlier masterpieces. It wasn’t until the Romantic era, which introduced the notion of the author as solitary genius, that originality came to be viewed as the paramount literary virtue. Plagiarism was and remains a murky offense, ‘best understood not as a sharply defined operation, like beheading, but as a whole range of activities, more like cooking,’ the English professor James R. Kincaid wrote in this magazine in 1977. Imagine a scale on one end of which are authors who poach plot ideas (Shakespeare stealing from Plutarch) and on the other are those who copy passages word for word: Jacob Epstein, who cribbed parts of his novel ‘Wild Oats’ from Martin Amis’s ‘The Rachel Papers“; the Harvard sophomore Kaavya Viswanathan, whose novel plagiarized chick lit.
Roman’s method, though- constructing his work almost entirely from other people’s sentence and paragraphs- makes his book a singular literary artifact, a ‘literal mashup’.
(The New Yorker, Feb.12 & 20, 2012)
Questa del literal mashup, però, mi è sembrata un’idea niente male che mi ha dato modo di riflettere e ingegnarmi in un esperimento concettuale, un ‘finto romanzo’ dei romanzi, che ho intenzione di ricavare, quindi ‘scrivere’, facendo esattamente copia e incolla dai classici della letteratura internazionale. Niente di originale, mi rendo conto. Quello che però potrebbe risultare interessante, è l’esito. Voglio vedere dove porta, e a che porta. E’ chiaro sarà difficile far coincidere tutti i pezzi insieme secondo un principio di armonia e fluidità del testo, ma ho pensato interessante sovvertire le trame dei romanzi, ri-adattare gli spazi, scombinare le strutture, scardinare esiti e fini, smantellare interi impianti narrativi, per crearne uno ‘nuovo’, un fake, che ricicla, contiene, si riproduce all’infinito, offre infinite possibilità di trama, ed ha forma e specificità propria; un ‘romanzo’ che ha un inizio, una continuità, ma non una fine. Fosse questo fake sperimentale una torre e un puzzle, per ricordare Perec, e i tasselli di questo immenso puzzle i classici della letteratura, che via via andrò ad aggiungere come mattoni perchè la storia prenda vita e presenti un senso ragionevolmente compiuto (delle volte astratto, surreale, assurdo).
Non sono sicura di poter utilizzare il materiale di cui avrò bisogno, è probabile l’iniziativa viola certi diritti d’autore, tuttavia mi sono detta questo fake è solo un esperimento e un passatempo, che non verrà pubblicato e potrebbe offrire tanti spunti di riflessione oltre che di approfondimento alle letture citate. Tengo a ribadire quest’idea non ha nessun fine ma quello di distrarre, divertire, e in qualche modo permettermi di sperimentare, esplorare, e giocare con la letteratura, perchè non rimanga ‘muta’ e scritta soltanto ma venga condivisa in maniera attiva. Se tuttavia qualcuno di voi ritenesse ‘illegale’, ‘immorale’ o ‘offensivo’ quanto creato, si senta libero di farmelo presente e discuterne.
Mi rendo conto sarebbe bello citare i romanzi in italiano, ma ho qui soltanto libri in inglese, dunque non posso che utilizzare quelli.
Ho pensato intitolare il ‘romanzo’: ‘The Experimental Plagiarism. A fake novel of real novels’, e di iniziarlo con una prima sentenza tratta dal Romanzo dei Romanzi, Anna Karenina, di Tolstoj. Ho poi ritagliato una parte tratta da un racconto breve, [2], ‘The third son’, di Andrey Platonovich Platonov (contenuto in Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida, che sto leggendo), e continuato il capitolo aggiungendo:
[3] una parte tratta da ‘Sinbad the Sailor‘, di Yuri Vasilyevich Buida (che è vero, non è un classico, ma da cui ho ritagliato appena tre linee soltanto)
[4] la parte introduttiva di ‘Life A User’s manual’, di Georges Perec, e infine [5] un’ultima parte tratta dall’inizio de ‘The Secret House’, di Edgar Wallace.
Questo quello che ne è venuto fuori.


‘The Experimental Plagiarism. A fake novel of real novels’, is an experimental and conceptual literary mess which aims to create a fake novel of real novels collected in one and kept together by a more or less cohesive -sometimes senseless, surreal, absurd – plot created by cutting and pasting paragraphs, short sentences, quotes, taken from classics of world literature and redirected into a text that contains them all but develops in its own way and direction. In a few words, ‘The Experimental Plagiarism. A fake novel of real novels’, is a killtime (and well, a killnovels as well) especially created for amusement only whom contents will not be published and aims are to cite, share and enjoy literature in a ‘creative’ and ‘experimental’ way.
Each paragraph, short sentence, quote, taken from a novel won’t be manipulated in any way and I’ll make sure to report name of the author, title of the book and date of publishing (when known).
To create the first chapter, I used:
[1] the first sentence taken from ‘Anna Karenina‘, by Lev Tolstoy, 1877
[2] a part taken from ‘The third son‘, by Andrey Platonovich Platonov
[3] a part taken from ‘Sinbad the Sailor’, by Yuri Vasilyevich Buida (I know, that’s not a classic, but it made sense and took 3 lines only)
[4] a part taken from ‘Life A User’s manual’, by Georges Perec, 1978
[5] a part taken from ‘The Secret House’, by Edgar Wallace, 1917
So here it goes, hope you enjoy it

__________________________CHAPTER 1_________________________________

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way
Anna Karenina, Lev Tolstoy

[2] An old woman died in a provincial town. Her husband, a seventy-year-old retired worker, went to the telegraph office and handed in six telegrams for different regions and republics, with the unvarying words: MOTHER DEAD COME HOME FATHER.
The elderly clerk took a long time doing the sums, kept makin mistakes, and wrote out the receipts and stamped them with trembling hands. The old man looked meekly at her through the wooden hatch; his eyes were red and he was absent- mindedly thinking something, trying to distract grief from his heart. It seemed to him that the woman, also had a broken heart and a soul now confused for ever- perhaps she was a widow or a wife who had been cruelly abandoned.
And so here she was, muddling money, losing her memory and attentiveness; even for ordinary, straightforward labour, people need to have inner happiness.
After sending off the telegrams, the old father went back home; he sat on a stool by a long table, at the cold feet oh his dead wife, smoked, whispered sad words, watched the solitary life of a grey bird hopping from perch to perch in its cage, sometimes cried quietly to himself and then calmed down, wound up his pocket watch, glanced now and again through the window, beyond which, out in nature, the weather kept changing- leaves were falling, along with flakes of wet tired snow, then there was rain, then a late sun shone, with no warmth, like a star – and the old man waited for his sons.
The eldest son arrived by plane the very next day. The other five sons all gathered within two more days.
One of them, the third son, came with his daughter, a six year old who had never seen her grandmother.
The mother had been waiting on the table for more than three days, but her body did not smell of death, so neat and clean had it been rendered by illness and dry exhaustion; after giving plentiful and healthy life to her sons, the old woman had kept a small, miserly body for herself and had tried for a long time to preserve it, if only in the most pitiful state, so that she could love her children and be proud of them- until she died.
The huge men, aged from twenty to forty, stood in silence round the coffin of the table. There were six of them – seven including the father, who was smaller than even his very youngest son, and weaker too. In his arms he held his granddaughter, who was screeming up her eyes from fear of a dead old woman she had never met and whose white unblinking eyes could just see her from beneath their half- closed lids.
The sons silently wept occasional slow tears, twisting their faces in order to bear grief without a sound. The father was no longer crying; he had cried himself out alone, before the others, and now, with secret excitement and an out-of-place joy, he was looking at his sturdy band of sons. Two of them were sailors – captain of ships; one was an actor from Moscow; the one with the daughter was a physicist and a Party member; the youngest was studying to be an agronomist; and the oldest was a head engineer in an aeroplane factory and wore on his chest a medal for honourable labour. All six of them – seven including the father- were silent around the dead mother and mourned her without a word, hiding from one another their despair, their memories of childhood and of love’s departed happiness, which had sprung up continually, making no demands, in their mother’s heart and which had always found them – even across thousands of miles- and they had sensed it constantly and instinctively and this had made them stronger and they had been successful in life more boldly. Now their mother had turned into a corpse; she could no longer love anyone and was lying there like an indifferent stranger, an old woman who had nothing to do with them.
Each of her sons felt lonely and frightened now, as if somewhere in the darkness a lamp had been burning on the windowsill of an old house far from anywhere, and the lamp had lit up the night, the flying beetles, the blue grass, the swarms of midges in the air- an entire childhood world abandoned by those who had been born there; the doors of that house had never locked, so that those who went out could always go back, but no one had gone back. And now it was as of the light had been extinguished in that night window, and reality had turned into memory.
[3] Before dying, Katerina Ivanovna Momotova sent for Doctor Sheberstov, who’d treated her all her life and had been pensioned off a long ago. She handed him the key to her little house and a scrap of paper folded in four, asking him to burn it along with all the others.
‘They are at home’, she explained in embarrassment.’But please don’t tell anyone. I’d have done it myself, only you see how it’s all turned out…’
[4] Yes, it could begin this way, right here, just like that, in a rather slow and ponderous way, in this neutral place that belongs to all and to none, where people pass by almost without seeing each other, where the life of the building regularly and distantly resounds. What happens behind the flats’ heavy doors can most often be perceived only through those fragmented echoes, those splinters, remnants, shadows, those first moves or incidents or accidents that happen in what are called the ‘common areas’, soft little sounds damped by the red woollen carpet, embryos of communal life which never go further than the landing.The inhabitants of a single building live a few inches from each other, they are separated by a mere partition wall, they share the same spaces repeated along corridor, they perform the same movements at the same times, turning on a tap, flushing the water closet, switching on a light, laying the table, a few dozen simultaneous existences repeated from storey to storey, from building to building, from street to street. They entrench themselves in their domestic dwelling space- since that is what it is called – and they would prefer nothing to emerge from it; but the little they do let out – the dog on a lead, the child off to fetch the bread, someone brought back, someone sent away- comes out by way of the landing.
For all that passes, passes by the stairs, and all that comes, comes by the stairs: letters, announcements of births, marriages, and deaths, forniture brought in or taken out by removers, the doctor called in an emergency, the traveler returning from a long voyage. It’s because of that that the staircase remains an anonymous, cold, and almost hostile place. In old buildings there used to be stone steps, wrought – iron handrails, sculptures, lamp- holders, sometimes a bench to allow old folk to rest between floors. In modern buildings there are lifts with walls covered in would- be obscene graffiti, and so- called ‘emergency’ staircases in unrendered concrete, dirty and echoing. In this block of flats, where there is an old lift almost always out of order, the staircase is an old-fashioned place of questionable cleanliness, which declines in terms of middle-class respectability as it rises from floor to floor: two thickness of carpet as far as the third floor, thereafter only one, and none at all for the two attic floors.
[5] A man stood irresolutely before the imposing portals of Cainbury House, a large office building let out to numerous small tenants, and harbouring, as the indicator on the tiled wall of the vestibule testified, some thirty different professions. The man was evidently poor, for his clothes were shabby and his boots were down at heel. He was as evidently a foreigner. His clean-shaven eagle face was sallow, his eyes were dark, his eyebrows black and straight.
He passed up the few steps into the hall and stood thoughtfully before the indicator. Presently he found what he wanted. At the very top of the list and amongst the crowded denizens of the fifth floor was a slip inscribed:
He took from his waistcoat pocket a newspaper cutting and compared the two then stepped briskly, almost jauntily, into the hall, as though all his doubts and uncertainties had vanished, and waited for the elevator. His coat was buttoned tightly, his collar was frayed, his shirt had seen the greater part of a week’s service, the Derby hat on his head had undergone extensive renovations, and a close observer would have noticed that his gloves were odd ones.
He walked into the lift and said, “Fifth floor,” with a slight foreign accent.
He was whirled up, the lift doors clanged open and the grimy finger of the elevator boy indicated the office. Again the man hesitated, examining the door carefully. The upper half was of toughened glass and bore the simple inscription:
Obediently the stranger knocked and the door opened through an invisible agent, much to the man’s surprise, though there was nothing more magical about the phenomenon than there is about any electrically controlled office door.
He found himself in a room sparsely furnished with a table, a chair and a few copies of papers. An old school map of England hung on one wall and a Landseer engraving on the other. At the farthermost end of the room was another door, and to this he gravitated and again, after a moment’s hesitation, he knocked.
“Come in,” said a voice.
He entered cautiously.
The room was larger and was comfortably furnished. There were shaded electric lamps on either side of the big carved oak writing-table. One of the walls was covered with books, and the litter of proofs upon the table suggested that this was the sanctorum.
But the most remarkable feature of the room was the man who sat at the desk. He was a man solidly built and, by his voice, of middle age. His face the new-comer could not see and for excellent reason. It was hidden behind a veil of fine silk net which had been adjusted over the head like a loose bag and tightened under the chin.
The man at the table chuckled when he saw the other’s surprise.
“Sit down,” he said–he spoke in French–“and don’t, I beg of you, be alarmed.”
“Monsieur,” said the new-comer easily, “be assured that I am not alarmed. In this world nothing has ever alarmed me except my own distressing poverty and the prospect of dying poor.”
The veiled figure said nothing for a while.
“You have come in answer to my advertisement,” he said after a long pause.
The other bowed.
“You require an assistant, Monsieur,” said the new-comer, “discreet, with a knowledge of foreign languages and poor. I fulfill all those requirements,” he went on calmly; “had you also added, of an adventurous disposition, with few if any scruples, it would have been equally descriptive.”
The stranger felt that the man at the desk was looking at him, though he could not see his eyes. It must have been a long and careful scrutiny, for presently the advertiser said gruffly:
“I think you’ll do.”
“Exactly,” said the new-comer with cool assurance; “and now it is for you, dear Monsieur, to satisfy me that you also will do. You will have observed that there are two parties to every bargain. First of all, my duties?”
The man in the chair leant back and thrust his hands into his pockets.
“I am the editor of a little paper which circulates exclusively amongst the servants of the upper classes,” he said. “I receive from time to time interesting communications concerning the aristocracy and gentry of this country, written by hysterical French maids and revengeful Italian valets. I am not a good linguist, and I feel that there is much in these epistles which I miss and which I should not miss.”
The new-comer nodded.
“I therefore want somebody of discretion who will deal with my foreign correspondence, make a fair copy in English and summarize the complaints which these good people make. You quite understand,” he said with a shrug of his shoulders, “that mankind is not perfect, less perfect is womankind, and least perfect is that section of mankind which employs servants. They usually have stories to tell not greatly to their masters’ credit, not nice stories, you understand, my dear friend. By the way, what is your name?”
The stranger hesitated.

Missed Crimes. Pulp Rehash. Resurrection by Lev Tolstoy

_______________Chapter 1.Maslova in Prison_________________
Though hundreds of thousands had done their very best to disfigure the small piece of land on which they were crowded together, by paving the ground with stones, scraping away every vestige of vegetation, cutting down the trees, turning away birds and beasts, and filling the air with the smoke of naphtha and coal, still spring was spring, even in the town.

The sun shone warm, the air was balmy; everywhere, where it did not get scraped away, the grass revived and sprang up between the paving-stones as well as on the narrow strips of lawn on the boulevards. The birches, the poplars, and the wild cherry unfolded their gummy and fragrant leaves, the limes were expanding their opening buds; crows, sparrows, and pigeons, filled with the joy of spring, were getting their nests ready; the flies were buzzing along the walls, warmed by the sunshine. All were glad, the plants, the birds, the insects, and the children. But men, grown-up men and women, did not leave off cheating and tormenting themselves and each other. It was not this spring morning men thought sacred and worthy of consideration not the beauty of God’s world, given for a joy to all creatures, this beauty which inclines the heart to peace, to harmony, and to love, but only their own devices for enslaving one another.

Thus, in the prison office of the Government town, it was not the fact that men and animals had received the grace and gladness of spring that was considered sacred and important, but that a notice, numbered and with a superscription, had come the day before, ordering that on this 28th day of April, at 9 a.m., three prisoners at present detained in the prison, a man and two women (one of these women, as the chief criminal, to be conducted separately), had to appear at Court. So now, on the 28th of April, at 8 o’clock, a jailer and soon after him a woman warder with curly grey hair, dressed in a jacket with sleeves trimmed with gold, with a blue-edged belt round her waist, and having a look of suffering on her face, came into the corridor.

“You want Maslova?” she asked, coming up to the cell with the jailer who was on duty.

The jailer, rattling the iron padlock, opened the door of the cell, from which there came a whiff of air fouler even than that in the corridor, and called out, “Maslova! to the Court,” and closed the door again.

Even into the prison yard the breeze had brought the fresh vivifying air from the fields. But in the corridor the air was laden with the germs of typhoid, the smell of sewage, putrefaction, and tar; every newcomer felt sad and dejected in it. The woman warder felt this, though she was used to bad air. She had just come in from outside, and entering the corridor, she at once became sleepy.

From inside the cell came the sound of bustle and women’s voices, and the patter of bare feet on the floor.

“Now, then, hurry up, Maslova, I say!” called out the jailer, and in a minute or two a small young woman with a very full bust came briskly out of the door and went up to the jailer. She had on a grey cloak over a white jacket and petticoat. On her feet she wore linen stockings and prison shoes, and round her head was tied a white kerchief, from under which a few locks of black hair were brushed over the forehead with evident intent. The face of the woman was of that whiteness peculiar to people who have lived long in confinement, and which puts one in mind of shoots of potatoes that spring up in a cellar. Her small broad hands and full neck, which showed from under the broad collar of her cloak, were of the same hue. Her black, sparkling eyes, one with a slight squint, appeared in striking contrast to the dull pallor of her face.

She carried herself very straight, expanding her full bosom.

With her head slightly thrown back, she stood in the corridor, looking straight into the eyes of the jailer, ready to comply with any order.

The jailer was about to lock the door when a wrinkled and severe-looking old woman put out her grey head and began speaking to Maslova. But the jailer closed the door, pushing the old woman’s head with it. A woman’s laughter was heard from the cell, and Maslova smiled, turning to the little grated opening in the cell door. The old woman pressed her face to the grating from the other side, and said, in a hoarse voice:

“Now mind, and when they begin questioning you, just repeat over the same thing, and stick to it; tell nothing that is not wanted.”
“Well, it could not be worse than it is now, anyhow; I only wish it was settled one way or another.”

“Of course, it will be settled one way or another,” said the jailer, with a superior’s self-assured witticism. “Now, then, get along! Take your places!”

via Book 1 Chapter 1. Maslova In Prison [Resurrection: Leo Tolstoy’s Novel].


‘Alas, what has happened to me is like nothing anyone has ever known: beyond understanding, beyond compassion, beyond comedy, though there are those, i know, who claim to be on the brink of some conclusive scientific explanation; and those, my faithful visitors, whose compassion is deeply felt, sorrowful and kind; and there are still others — there would have to be — out in the world who cannot help but laugh. And I, at times, am one with them: I understand, I have compassion, I see the joke.’

Mettiamola così: un giorno come un altro vi svegliate, vi alzate dal letto, andate in bagno, vi specchiate nella toilette del lavandino, e scoprite, con orrore, di esservi trasformate. Non vi è ancora chiaro in cosa, ma certamente in qualcosa di molle. E rosa. Una specie di fungo, a cappella stretta e chiusa.
Fate per portarvi le mani alla bocca, ma non avete braccia. Abbassate lo sguardo ai piedi, ma non avete piedi. Avete due sacche, al posto dei piedi. Due sacche gonfie e piene. E non avete gambe, siete un tutt’uno di carne moscia e grinze. Un pene, signore. Non agitatevi, potreste eiaculare
La domanda: Che fate? Voi, donne, che fareste se mai un giorno vi trasformaste in un pene? (Si, è ammesso importunare le vecchine del centro geriatrico locale, ma solo se le vecchine vi provano gusto. E si, sono ammessi blitz nei monasteri e alle poste. A rischio i Lesbian Clubs)
L’ho chiesto ad alcune amiche
‘Oh mio Dio ah ah ah’- Federica
‘you ok Laurjutka?’- Tatijana
‘E’chiaro, mollo tutto e parto alla ricerca della mia Vagina’- Lidia
‘Offro il mio seme alle donne single che vogliono avere un bambino’- mia sorella
‘Mi spaccio per leghista e infiltro a palazzo chigi come spia dei Vespri- Svesda
‘Me la godo’- io. Voglio sapere com’è, come ci si sente quando si è eccitati e si sta per venire. Dentro una donna. Dentro un uomo. Dentro una bocca, dentro l’acqua, in ascensore, in coda al traffico, davanti a un tramonto, mentre si sogna.
How does it feel like? Che pacchia
Il 18 Febbraio 1971 David Kepesh si trasforma in un seno e l’episodio in un romanzo breve di Philip Roth che a me non è piacito e ho rischiato più volte di abbandonare; il fatto viene rivelato a pag.12, senza phatos nè suspance. Il resto del romanzo è l’elucubrazione di un uomo in crisi, che desidera copulare ma non può e per questo si sente frustrato, quanto se non più di una donna che non riesce ad avere un orgasmo da penetrazione. (Benvenuto nel club, prof). David Kepesh ci prova in tutte le maniere, facendosi massaggiare il capezzolo e perfino strofinandolo agli orifizi genitali dell’amante e del corpo infermieristico che lo assiste nella clinica dov’è ricoverato sotto osservazione. Niente però sembra soddisfarlo abbastanza quanto il rimpianto di un’eiaculazione.
Nelle intenzioni di Roth questo romanzo doveva essere un omaggio alla metamorfosi di Kafka e forse un tentativo di emulazione all’ironia di Gogol, sebbene, a mio parere, l’inefficacia delle digressioni e le tante citazioni.
Questa una bella recensione
The Mookse and the Gripes » Philip Roth: The Breast.

I am a breast. A phenomenon that has been variously described to me as ‘a massive hormonal influx’,’an endocrinopathic catastrophe,’ and/or ‘a hermaphroditic explosion of chromosomes’ took place within my body between midnight and four A.M. on February 18, 1971, and converted me into a mammary gland disconnected from any human form, a mammary gland such as could only appear, one would have thought, in a dream or a Dali painting. They tell me that I am now an organism with the general shape of a football, or a dirigible: I am said to be of a spongy consistency, weighing in at one hundred and fifty-five pounds (formerly I was one hundred and sixty-two), and measuring, still, six feet in length. Though I continue to retain, in damaged and ‘irregular’ form, much of the cardiovascular and central nervous system, an excretory system described as ‘reduced and primitive’-tubes now help me to void- and a respiratory system that terminates just above my midsection in something resembling a navel with a flap, the basic architecture in which these human characteristics are disarranged and buried is that of the breast of the mammalian female.
The bulk of my weight is fatty tissue. At one of my ends I am rounded off like a watermelon; at the other I terminate in a nipple, cylindrical in shape, projecting five inches from my ‘body’, and perforated at the tip with seventeen openings, each about half the size of the male urethral orifice. I am told that these are the apertures of the lactiferous ducts. As I am able to understand it without the benefit of diagrams- I am sightless- the ducts branch back into lobules composed of cells of the sort that secrete the milk that is carried to the surface of the ordinary nipple when it is being suckled, or milked by mechanical means.
My flesh is smooth and ‘youthful’ and I am still a ‘Caucasian’, they say. My nipple is rosy pink in color. This last is thought to be unusual in that in my former incarnation I was an emphatic brunette. As I told the endocrinologist who made this observation, I myself find it less ‘unusual’ than certain other aspects of the transformation, but then I am not the endocrinologist around here. The wit was bitter, but it was wit at last, and it must have been observed and noted that I was making an ‘adjustment’ to my new situation.
My nipple is rosy pink in color- as was the stain I had discovered at the base of my penis upon stepping into the shower the night this all happened to me.
In that the apertures in the nipple provide me with something remotely like a mouth and ears- at least I am able to make myself understood through my nipple, and, faintly, to hear what is going on around me- I myself had assumed at first that it was my head that become my nipple. The doctors, however, hypothesize otherwise, at least as of this month.
With little more evidence, I would think, to support this conjecture over any other, they now maintain that the wrinkled, roughened skin of the nipple- which, admittedly, is exquisitely sensitive to touch like no tissue on the face, including the mucous membrane of the lips- was formed out of the glans penis. So too the puckered pinkish areola that encircles the nipple and contains the muscle system that stiffens the nipple when I am aroused, is said to have metamorphosed from the shaft of the penis under the assault (some say) of a volcanic secretion from the pituitary of ‘mammogenic’ fluid. Two fine long reddish hairs extend from one of the small elevations on the rim of the areola. ‘They must look strange. How long are they?’
‘Seven inches exactly’
‘My antennae.’ The bitterness. Then the disbelief.
‘Will you pull on one of them, please?’
‘If you like, David, I’ll pull gently.’
Dr.Gordon wasn’t lying. A hair on my body had been tugged. It was familiar sensation, and it made me want to be dead.
Of course it was days after the change had taken place before I even regained consciousness, and another week before they would tell me anything other than that I had been ‘very ill’ with ‘an endocrine imbalance,’and even then, I howled so wretchedly in rediscover each time I awoke that I could neither see, smell, taste, or move, that I had to be kept under heavy sedation. When my ‘body’ was touched I did not know what to make of. The sensation was, unexpectedly, soothing and pleasant, but of an undifferentiated kind, reminding me of water lapping over the skin more than anything else. One morning I awakened to feel something strange happening to one of my extremities. Nothing like pain, yet I screamed, ‘I’ve been burned! I was in a fire!’
Text entirely taken from The breast, by Philip Roth, 1972

Some Of Those Days

La Musique des Pucese by Robert Doisneau

-Madeleine, if you please, play something on the phonograph. The one I like, you know: Some of these days.
Madeleine turns the crank on the phonograph. I only hope she has not made a mistake; that she hasn’t put on Cavalleria Rusticana, as she did the other day. But no, this is it, I recognize the melody from the very first bars. It is an old rag-time with a vocal refrain. I heard American soldiers whistle it in 1917 in the streets of LaRochelle. It must date from before the War. But the recording is much more recent. Still, it is the oldest record in the collection, a Pathe record for sapphire needle.
The vocal chorus will be along shortly: I like that part especially and the abrupt manner in which it throws itself forward, like a cliff against the sea. For the moment, the jazz is playing; there is no melody, only notes, a myriad of tiny jolts. They know no rest, an inflexible order gives birth to them and destroys them without even giving them time to recuperate and exist for themselves. They race, they press forward, they strike me a sharp blow in passing and are obliterated. I would like to hold them back, but I know if I succeeded in stopping one it would remain between my fingers only as a raffish languishing sound. I must accept their death; I must even will it. I know few impressions stronger or more harsh.
I grow warm, I begin to feel happy. There is nothing extraordinary in this, it is a small happiness of Nausea: it spreads at the bottom of the viscous puddle, at the bottom of our time—the time of purple suspenders and broken chair seats; it is made of wide, soft instants, spreading at the edge, like an oil stain. No sooner than born, it is already old, it seems as though I have known it for twenty years.
There is another happiness: outside there is this band of steel, the narrow duration of the music which traverses our time through and through, rejecting it, tearing at it with its dry little points; there is another time.
“Monsieur Randu plays hearts..and you play an ace.
The voice dies away and disappears. Nothing bites on the ribbon of steel, neither the opening door, nor the breath of cold air flowing over my knees, nor the arrival of the veterinary surgeon and his little girl: the music transpierces these vague figures and passes through them. Barely seated, the girl has been seized by it: she holds herself stiffly, her eyes wide open; she listens, rubbing the table with her fist.
A few seconds more and the Negress will sing. It seems inevitable, so strong is the necessity of this music: nothing can interrupt it, nothing which comes from this time in which the world has fallen; it will stop of itself, as if by order. If I love this beautiful voice it is especially because of that: it is neither for its fulness nor its sadness, rather because it is the event for which so many notes have been preparing, from so far away, dying that it might be born. And yet I am troubled; it would take so little to make the record stop: a broken spring, the whim of Cousin Adolphe. How strange it is, how moving, that this hardness should be so fragile. Nothing can interrupt it yet all can break it.
The last chord has died away. In the brief silence which follows I feel strongly that there it is, that something has happened.
Some of these days You’ll miss me honey
What has just happened is that the Nausea has disappeared. When the voice was heard in the silence, I felt my body harden and the Nausea vanish. Suddenly: it was almost unbearable to become so hard, so brilliant. At the same time the music was drawn out, dilated, swelled like a waterspout. It filled the room with its metallic transparency, crushing our miserable time against the walls. I am in the music. Globes of fire turn in the mirrors; encircled by rings of smoke, veiling and unveiling the hard smile of light. My glass of beer has shrunk, it seems heaped up on the table, it looks dense and indispensable. I want to pick it up and feel the weight of it, I stretch out my hand..God! That is what has changed, my gestures. This movement of my arm has developed like a majestic theme, it has glided along the song of the Negress; I seemed to be dancing.
Adolphe’s face is there, set against the chocolate-coloured wall; he seems quite close. Just at the moment when my hand closed, I saw his face; it witnessed to the necessity of a conclusion. I press my fingers against the glass, I look at Adolphe: I am happy.
A voice rises from the tumult. My neighbour is speaking, the old man burns. His cheeks make a violet stain on the brown leather of the bench. He slaps a card down on the table. Diamonds.
But the dog-faced young man smiles. The flushed opponent, bent over the table, watches him like a cat ready to spring.
“Et voila!”
The hand of the young man rises from the shadow, glides an instant, white, indolent, then suddenly drops like a hawk and presses a card against the cloth. The great red-faced man leaps up:”Hell! He’s trumped.”
The outline of the king of hearts appears between his curled fingers, then it is turned on its face and the game goes on. Mighty king, come from so far, prepared by so many combinations, by so many vanished gestures. He disappears in turn so that other combinations can be born, other gestures,attacks, counterattacks, turns of luck, a crowd of small adventures.
I am touched, I feel my body at rest like a precision machine. I have had real adventures. I can recapture no detail but I perceive the rigorous succession of circumstances. I have crossed seas, left cities behind me, followed the course of rivers or plunged into forests, always making my way towards other cities. I have had women, I have fought with men; and never was I able to turn back,any more than a record can be reversed. And all that led me—where? At this very instant, on this bench, in this translucent bubble all humming with music.
And when you leave me
Yes, I who loved so much to sit on the banks of the Tiber at Rome, or in the evening, in Barcelona, ascend and descend the Ramblas a hundred times, I, who near Angkor, on the island of Baray Prah-Kan, saw a banyan tree knot its roots about a Naga chapel, I am here, living in the same second as these card players, I listen to a Negress sing while outside roves the feeble night.
The record stops.
Night has entered, sweetish, hesitant. No one sees it, but it is there, veiling the lamps; I breathe something opaque in the air: it is night. It is cold. One of the players pushes a disordered pack of cards towards another man who picks them up. One card has stayed behind. Don’t they see it? It’s the nine of hearts. Someone takes it at last, gives it to the dog-faced young man.
“Ah. The nine of hearts.”
Enough, I’m going to leave. The purple-faced man bends over a sheet of paper and sucks his pencil. Madeleine watches him with clear, empty eyes. The young man turns and turns the nine of hearts between his fingers. God! . . .
I get up with difficulty; I see an inhuman face glide in the mirror above the veterinary’s head. In a little while I’ll go to the cinema.
Jean – Paul Sartre, Nausea, 1938.

About the Art Of The Novel

Invito Milan Kundera a uno shisha hour in una coffeehouse in Nowhere Street. L’appuntamento è alle diciotto, ma io mi presento in anticipo di mezz’ora; al mio arrivo, Kundera siede già al tavolo che ho riservato per noi, fuori in un Vasto Giardino, come piace a lui . Sorseggia maroccam mint tea, gioca a scacchi contro Il Turco. Un vecchio grammofono polveroso suona un pezzo di Lady Gogo.
Perchè so Kundera un appassionato di jazz, mi presento all’appuntamento con in mano un vecchio vinile dei Soft Machine. Seven, del 1974. Mi dico sorpresa di essere arrivata in ritardo, pur essendo in anticipo. Kundera sorride, si compiace della mia apprensione, e invita a sedere di fianco al Turco.
Chiedo a Kundera se al momento sta leggendo niente di interessante, e questi mi risponde ‘Smatrex M-788NK, Il manuale delle istruzioni’ (per chi non lo sapesse ancora, lo Smatrex M-788NK è un androide di ultima generazione, CGV di precisione, FVB 77 a raggi UV, KMb1 ad alta risoluzione, NGU2 termoregolabile, connessione YVeta a FGH78 e 678 uscite BX, che oltre a funzionare da apparecchio telefonico, stira, cucina, lava, e si ricarica nel microonde in appena un nano-secondo)
La provocazione è sottile e allude al catastrofismo teoretico mosso da Husserls e posto a dibattito da Kundera nel primo capitolo del saggio ‘The Art Of The Novel’ , del 1988.
In una celebre lettura del 1935, Edmund Husserl parla di una crisi dell’umanità europea che ha influenzato negativamente le arti. Secondo il padre della fenomenologia, questa crisi è iniziata nell’Età Moderna, con Galileo e Descartes, e l’acquisizione, da parte dell’uomo, di un primato sulla natura
“Once elevated by Descartes to ‘master and proprietor of nature’, man has now become a mere thing to the forces (of technology, of politics, of history) that bypass him, surpass him, possess him. To those forces, man’s concrete being, his ‘world of life’ (die Lebenswelt), has neither value nor interest: it is eclipsed, forgotten from the start.”
“The rise of the sciences propelled man into the tunnels of specialized disciplines. The more he advanced in knowledge, the less clearly could he see either the world as a whole or his own self, and he plunged further into what Husserl’s pupil Heidegger called, in a beautiful and almost magical phrase, ‘the forgetting of being’.
“Indeed, all the great existential themes Heidegger analyzes in Being and Time- considering them to have been neglected by all earlier European philosophy– had been unveiled, displayed, illuminated by four centuries of the novel (four centuries of European reincarnation of the novel). In its own way, throught its own logic, the novel discovered the various dimension of existence one by one: with Cervantes and his contemporaries, it inquires into the nature of adventure; with Richardson, it begins to examine “what happens inside”, to unmask the secret life of the feelings; with Balzac, it discovers man’s rootedness in history; with Flaubert, it explores the terra previously incognita of the everyday; with Tolstoy, it focuses on decisions. It probes time: the elusive past with Proust, the elusive present with Joyce. With Thomas Mann, it examines the role of the myths from the remote past that control our present actions. Et cetera, et cetera.’
Secondo Kundera, anticipatore dell’Età Moderna non è solo Descartes, ma anche Cervantes
‘Perhaps it is Cervantes whom the two phenomenologists neglected to take into consideration in their judgment of the Modern Era. By that I mean: if it is true that philosophy and science have forgotten about man’s being, it emerges all the more plainly that with Cervantes a great European art took shape that is nothing other than the investigation of this forgotten being.’
[3.]’As God slowly departed from the seat whence he had directed the universe and its order of value, distinguished good from evil, and endowed each thing with meaning, Don Quixote set forth from his house into a world he could no longer recognize. In the absence of the Supreme Judge, the world suddenly appeared in its fearsome ambiguity; the single divine Truth decomposed into myriad relative truths parceled out by men. Thus was born the world of the Modern Era, and with it the novel, the image and model of that world.
To take, with Descartes, the thinking self as the basis of everything, and thus to face the universe alone, is to adopt an attitude that Hegel was right to call heroic. To take, with Cervantes, the world as ambiguity, to be obliged to face not a single absolute truth but a welter of contradictory truths (truths embodied in imaginary selves called characters), to have as one’s only certainty the wisdom of uncertainty, requires no less courage.
What does Cervantes’ great novel mean? Much has been written on the question. Some see in it a rationalist critique of Don Quixote’ s hazy idealism. Others see it as a celebration of that same idealism. Both interpretations are mistaken because they both seek at the novel’s core not an inquiry but a moral position.
Man desires a world where good and evil can be clearly distinguished, for he has an innate and irrepressible desire to judge before he understands. Religions and ideologies are founded on this desire. They can cope with the novel only by translating its language of relativity and ambiguity into their own apodictic and dogmatic discourse. They require that someone be right: either Anna Karenina is the victim of a narrow- minded tyrant, or Karenin is the victim of an immoral woman; either K. is an innocent man crushed by an unjust Court, or the Court represents divine justice and K. is guilty.
This ‘either- or’ encapsulates an inability to tolerate the essential relativity of things human, an inability to look squarely at the absence of the Supreme Judge. This inability makes the novel’s wisdom ( the wisdom of uncertainty) hard to accept and understand.
[4.]’Don Quixote set off into a world that opened wide before him. He could go out freely and come home as he pleased. The early European novels are journeys through an apparently unlimited world. The opening of Jacques le Fataliste comes upon the two heroes in mid- journey; we don’t know where they’ve come from or where they’re going. They exist in a time without beginning or end, in a space without frontiers, in the midst of a Europe whose future will never end.
Half a century after Diderot, in Balzac, the distant horizon has disappeared like a landscape behind those modern structures, the social institutions: the police, the law, the world of money and crime, the army, the State. In Balzac’s world, time no longer idles happily by as it does for Cervantes and Diderot. It has set forth on the train called History. The train is easy to board, hard to leave. But it isn’t at all fearsome yet, it even has its appeal; it promises adventure to every passenger, and with it fame and fortune.
Later still, for Emma Bovary, the horizon shrinks to the point of seeming a barrier. Adventure lies beyond it, and the longing becomes intolerable. Within the monotony of the quotidian, dreams and daydreams take on importance. The lost infinity of the outside world is replaced by the infinity of the soul. The great illusion of the irreplaceable uniqueness of the individual- one of the Europe’s finest illusion- blossoms forth.
But the dream of the soul’s infinity loses its magic when History (or what remains of it: the suprahuman force of an omnipotent society) takes hold of man. History no longer promises him fame and fortune; it barely promises him a land- surveyor’s job. In the face of the Court or the Castle, what can K.do? Not much. Can’t he at least dream as Emma Bovary used to do? No, the situation’s trap is too terrible, and like a vacuum cleaner it sucks up all his thoughts and feelings: all he can think of is his trial, his surveying job. The infinity of the soul- if it ever existed- has become a nearly useless appendage.’
Non c’è grandezza nelle miserie della vita, nè possibilità di fuga dal mondo. La realtà manca di poesia, gli uomini di coraggio. Don Chisciotte è stato arrestato alla frontiera, K. processato in televisione, Winston Smith ingaggiato alla conduzione di un nuovo reality show. ‘How to make money’ figura ancora al primo posto nella classifica dei libri più letti in formato digitale.
Chiedo a Kundera che ruolo avrebbe la letteratura in tutto questo, quale sarebbe la ragione d’essere di un romanzo
‘The sole raison d’etre of a novel is to discover what only the novel can discover. A novel that does not discover a hitherto unknown segment of existence is immoral. Knowledge is the novel’s only morality.’
Kundera si prende sul serio.
Delle volte mi chiedo come sarà la letteratura del futuro ( non intendo la sci-fiction). Il linguaggio di ciascuno di noi si evolve ogni giorno arricchito di parole nuove, un vocabolario criptato a noi fino a prima di adesso del tutto sconosciuto e in alcuni casi ancora incomprensibile. La realtà muta di forma e sostanza, e noi con essa, in un processo di metamorfosi sociale e culturale, perpetua e incoercibile. Ci si incontra e innamora su internet, si comunica by email, si viene assunti su Skype, licenziati su Facebook, mollati su Twitter. Chiedo a Kundera come immagina la letteratura del futuro, quali i conflitti, le tensioni ideali rispetto al contesto storico, i dialoghi, l’atmosfera, i luoghi. Ma Kundera non mi ascolta neanche più, ha appena scoperto di avere Hungry Bird nel telefonino.
Quanto al Turco, sparito. Con la gynoid seduta al tavolo di fianco al nostro.

Texts entirely taken from ‘The Art of the Novel’, Milan Kundera, 1988
Paris Review – The Art of Fiction No. 81, Milan Kundera.

Block, off Seven, Soft Machine, 1974

“But most of them believe that it is only by constraint they can get any good out of themselves, and so they live in a state of psychological distortion. It is his own self that each of them is most afraid of resembling. Each of them sets up a pattern and imitates it; he doesn’t even choose the pattern he imitates; he accepts a pattern that has been chosen for him. And yet I verily believe there are other things to be read in man. But people don’t dare to- they don’t dare to turn the page. Laws of imitation! Laws of fear, I call them. The fear of finding oneself alone- that is what they suffer from- and so they don’t find themselves at all. I detest such moral agoraphobia- the most odious of cowardice, I call it. Why, one always has to be alone to invent anything- but they don’t want to invent anything. The part in each of us that we feel is different from other people is just the part that is rare, the part that makes our special value- and that is the very thing people try to suppress. They go on imitating. And yet they think they love life.
“Do you know the reason why poetry and philosophy are nothing but dead-letter nowadays? It is because they have severed themselves from life. In Greece, ideas went hand in hand with life; so that the artist’s life itself was already a poetic realization, the philosopher’s life a putting into action of his philosophy; in this way, as both philosophy and poetry took part in life, instead of remaining unacquainted with each other, philosophy provided food for poetry, and poetry gave expression to philosophy- and the result was admirably persuasive. Nowadays beauty no longer acts; action no longer desires to be beautiful; and wisdom works in a sphere apart.”
Taken from The Immoralist,André Gide-1902


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.


Gabriel Smy by flickr

“Lolita,light of my fire,fire of my loins. My sin,my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the plate to tap, at three,on the teeth.Lo.Lee.Ta.”

Ci sono libri dei quali si teme la lettura; le ragioni sono personali,i timori molto spesso infondati.Per molti anni ho voluto,intenzionalmente,tenermi alla larga dagli esistenzialisti per averne letto il manifesto di Sartre(motivo sufficiente a spiegare le ragioni di questa scelta),da Samuel Beckett, William Faulkner,Jorge Luis Borges-senza nessuna ragione in particolare(se non per il fatto di non ritenermi all’altezza della lettura e alla partecipazione critica ed empatica delle idee).
Ricordo di un libro,letto in adolescenza,di Luciano De Crescenzo-credo Panta Rei,nel quale lo scrittore racconta di una donna della quale si innamora perchè in grado di poter citare Finnegans Wake a memoria; inutile nascondere sono stata intrigata da questa sfida e ho desiderato potervi riuscire anch’io (sebbene consapevole quello di James Joyce un capolavoro della letteratura assai esclusivo,cui lettura è riservata a quei pochi in grado di smisurata conoscenza letteraria-che io non ho).
Forse un giorno.Il bello della letteratura sta proprio nel consentire a ciascuno,attraverso la lettura,di esplorare diversi,differenti,stati dell’essere a cavallo la pluralità di personaggi e storie,apparentemente diversi,fondamentalmente unici e peculiari l’uomo e la vita, i dubbi,le tensioni ideali, i moti dello spirito,le piccole battaglie interiori,gli armistizi dell’anima.Molti sottovalutano il potere indagativo,rivelativo,conoscitivo della letteratura,e riducono la lettura a perditempo,gli scrittori a giocolieri del verbo,mentre è alla letteratura e agli scrittori che bisogna riconoscere il merito d’avere esemplificato il temperamento di un’epoca,descritto l’umore della storia,ponderato patemi esistenziali,indugiato alternative,dal punto di vista intellettuale e sentimentale,emotivo e descrittivo,metafisico e reale.
Vorrà suonare strano,ma c’è un romanzo che,per qualche ragione,non ho mai avuto il coraggio leggere finora e questo romanzo è Lolita di Vladimir Nabokov.Probabilmente perchè suggestionata dalla critica sbrigativa e spicciola che se n’è sempre fatta per schedulare la trama entro uno steriotipo un po’accattivante/un po’ commiserativo-forse,o forse perchè insofferente all’idea di un uomo di mezza età attratto in maniera morbosa da una-appena dodicenne-ragazzina. In realtà,per comprendere le ragioni che fanno di Lolita un capolavoro meraviglioso della letteratura,e i motivi per cui lo stesso è considerato essere uno dei migliori classici del ventesimo secoli,è necessario leggerlo in inglese,perchè è soltanto in inglese, a mio parere, che questo romanzo si rivela in tutto il suo incredibile fascino narrativo; c’è niente di più misurato e sentimentale della prosa, del piglio visionario a contorno delle immagini a onore della ninfetta Lolita suggerite da Humbert.
Quello che secondo me è importante sottolineare per rendere onore al romanzo,non è tanto la trama( uomo attempato che si innamora di una dodicenne smaliziata,personificazione del Complesso di Elettra) quanto la psicologia di questo amore. Humbert si innamora di Lolita perchè è tramite Lolita che Humbert ritorna ragazzino; il richiamo,in questo romanzo,è a quell’amore smaliziato e puro della prima infanzia,poi dell’adolescenza,che poco ha a che fare con quello adulto,spesso controverso, difficoltoso, impegnativo, cerebrale,complesso. L’amore di Humbert per Lolita è un amore semplice,fatto ancora di sensazioni,di ricordi legati alla prima infanzia, al sapore, all’odore delle cose,alla primordialità degli istinti,d’amore,di passione,di pudore,di paure,di sussulti e nostalgie.
Lolita, rappresenta per Humbert l’incarnazione di Annabel,primo amore dell’uomo,morta in giovane età, e insieme,la possibilità di riamarla,averla vicina,rivivere quell’amore mancato.Il riferimento è spicciolo,palese,reso già al terzo capitolo,con naturalezza e quasi pudore,tatto e malinconia.
A mio avviso frainteso da Kubrick in una prima rappresentazione cinematogrfica del 1962, merita la seppure smielata e pietosa interpretazione di Adrianne Lyne,del 1992.
A seguire il terzo e quarto capitolo
Cap 3
Annabel was,like the writer, of mixed parentage: half English, half Dutch, in her case. I remember her features far less distinctly today that I did a few years ago, before I knew Lolita. There are two kinds of visual memory : one when you skillfully recreate an image in the laboratory of your mind, with your eyes open (and then I see Annabel in such general terms as: “honey-colored skin,””thin arms,””brown bobbed hair,””long lashes,””big bright mouth”); and the other when you instantly evoke,with shut eyes, on the darl innerside of your eyelids, the objective, absolutely optical replica of a beloved face, a little ghost in natural colors(and this is how I see Lolita).
Let me therefore primly limit myself, in describing Annabel, to saying she was a lovely child a few months my junior. Her parents were old friends of my aunt’s and, as stuff as she. They had rented a villa not far from Hotel Mirama. Bald brow Mr.Leight and fat, powdered Mrs.Leight (born Vanessa van Ness). How I loathed them! At first, Annabel and I talked of peripheral affairs. She kept lifting handfuls of fine sand and letting it pour through her fingers. Our brains were turned the way those of intelligent European preadolescents were in our day and set, and I doubt if much individual genius should be assigned to our interest in the plurality of inhabited worlds, competitive tennis,infinity,solipsism and so on. The softness and fragility of baby animals caused us the same intense pain. She wanted to be a nurse in some famished Asiatic country; I wanted to be a famous spy.
All at once we were madly,crumsily,shamelessly, agonizingly in love with each other; hopelessly, I should add,because that frenzy of mutual possession might have been assuaged only by our actually imbibing and assimilating every particle of each other’s soul and flesh; but there we were, unbale even to mate as slum children would have so easily found an opportunity to do. After one wild attempt we made to meet at night in her garden (of which more later), the only privacy we were allowed was to be out of earshot but not out of sight on the populous part of the plage. There, on the soft sand, a few feet away from our eleders, we would sprawl all morning, in a petrified paroxysm of desire,and take advantage of every blessed quirk in space and time to touch each other; her hand, half-hidden in the sand, would creep toward me, its slender brown fingers sleepwalking nearer and nearer; then, her opalescent knee would start on a long cautious journey; sometimes a chance rampart built by younger children granted us sufficient concealment to graze each other’s salty lips; these incomplete contacts drove our healthy and inexperienced young bodies to such a state of exasperation that not even the cold blue water, under which we still clawed at each other,could bring relief.
Among some treasures I lost during the wanderings of my adult years, there was a snapshot taken by my aunt which showed Annabel, her parents and the staid, elderly,lame gentleman, a Dr.Cooper, who that same summer courted my aunt, grouped around a table in a sidewalk café. Annabel did not come out well, caught as she was in the act of bending over her chocolat glacé, and her thin bare shoulders and the parting in the hair were about all that could be identified ( as I remember that picture) amid the sunny blur into which her lost loveliness graded; but I, sitting somewhat apart from the rest, came out with a kind of dramatic conspicuousness; a moody, beetle-browed boy in a dark sport hirt and well-tailored white shorts, his legs crossed, sitting in profile, looking away. That photograph was taken on the last day of our fatal summer and just a few minutes before we made our second and final attempt to thwart fate. Under the flimsiest of pretexts ( this was our very last chance, and nothing really mattered) we escaped from the café to the beach, and found a desolate stretch of sand, and there, in the violet shadow of some red rocks forming a kind of cave, had a brief session of avid caresses, with somebody’s lost pair of sunglasses for only witness. I was on my knees, and on the point of possessing my darling, when two bearded bathers, the old man of the sea and his brother, came out of the sea with exclamations of ribald encouragement, and four months later she died of typhus in Corfu.
                                                                         Cap 4
I leaf again and again through these miserable memories, and keep asking myself, was it then, in the glitter of that remote summer, that the rift in my life began; or was my excessive desire for that child only the first evidence of an inherent singularity? When I try to analyze my own cravings, motives, actions and so forth, I surrender to a sort of retrospective imagination which feeds the analytic faculty with boundless alternatives and which causes each visualized route to fork and re-fork without end in the maddeningly complex prospect of my past. I am convinced, however, that in a certain magic and fateful way Lolita began with Annabel.
I also know that the shock of Annabel’s death consolidated the frustration of that nightmare summer, made of it a permanent obstacle to any further romance throughout the cold years of my youth. The spiritual and the physical had been blended in us with a perfection that must remain incomprehensible to the matter-of-fact, crude,standard-brained youngsters of today. Long after her death I felt her thoughts floating through mine. Long before we met we had had the same dreams. We compared notes. We found strange affinities. The same June of the same year (1919) a stray canary had fluttered into her house and mine, in two widely separated countries. Oh, Lolita, had you loved me thus!
I have reserved for the conclusion of my “Annabel” phase the account of our unsuccessful first tryst. One night, she managed to deceive the vicious vigilance of her family. In a nervous and slender-leaved mimosa grove at the back of their villa we found a perch on the ruins of a low stone wall. Through the darkness and the tender trees we could see the arabesques of lighted windows which, touched up by the colored inks od sensitive memory, appear to me now like playing cards- presumably because a bridge game was keeping the enemy busy. She trembled and twitched as I kissed the corner of her parted lips and the hot lobe of her ear. A cluster of stars palely glowed above us, between the silhouettes of long thin leaves; that vibrant sky seemed as naked as she was under her light frock. I saw her face in the sky, strangely distinct, as if it emitted a faint radiance of its own. Her legs,her lovely live legs, were not too close together, and when my hand located what it sought, a dreamy and eerie expression, half-pleasure,half-pain, came over those childish features. She sat a little higher than I,and whenever in her solitary ecstasy she was led to kiss me, her head would bend with a sleepy, soft,drooping movement that was almost woeful, and her bare knees caught and compressed my wrist,and slackened again; and her quivering mouth, distorted by the acridity of some mysterious potion, with a sibilant intake of breath came near to my face. She would try to relieve the pain of love by first roughly rubbing her dry lips against mine; then my darling would draw away with a nervous toss of her hair, and then again come darkly near and let me feed on her open mouth, while with a generosity that was ready to offer her everything, my heart, my throat, my entrails,I gave her to hold in her awkward fist the scepter of my passion.
I recall the scent of some kind of toilet powder- I believe she stole it from her mother’s Spanish maid- a sweetish, lowly, musky perfume. It mingled with her own biscuity odor, and my senses were suddenly filled to the brim; a sudden commotion in a nearby bush prevented them from overflowing- and as we drew away from each other, and with aching veins attended to what was probably a prowling cat, there came from the house her mother’s voice calling her, with a rising frantic note- and Dr.Cooper ponderously limped out into the garden. But That mimosa grove-the haze of stars,the tingle,the flame,the honey-dew, and the ache remained with me,and that little girl with her seaside limbs and ardent tongue haunted me ever since- until at last,twenty-four years later, I broke her spell incarnating her in another.
Taken from Lolita,by Vladimir Nabokov,1955
The Reading Life: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.

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