July 16, 2008
This post is a reminder to myself to visit the collection of Alfred Jarry paraphernalia at Princeton University Library.
"This collection was received as a gift from Charles K. Warner in 1980. Virtually complete, it includes all numbers of all series published by the 'College de Pataphysique' (over 200 items), and correspondence of Warner's. Catalogued during the summers of 1990 and 1991 by Anna Creese, graduate student in the Department of Romance Languages."
Anyone know anything about Charles K. Warner? Where's Anna Creese? (Google's not helping.)
July 15, 2008
July 14, 2008
First Chapter: Pruning the Buds
Put up a fence today. Even though we live on the city's roof, high above the Valley of the Ants, there are always faces, eyes, looks. God, I hate people. Shoo! Get! Up there in our secluded garden, in any case, I clipped away all the blossoms, pruned off all the buds. I had to do something, things can't just go on as though nothing has happened, can they? The leaves are bursting out all over, there's no stopping them. Shoots and new growth everywhere. (And in the darkest corner, furtive and untouched, the alder. A drab sapling that must once have stowed itself away in old soil. Now already as big as a child.)
Fences, partitions, shears. Others dig moats, forge locks, raise bridges. Burn cities to the ground. Yet it all comes down to the same thing. Wanting to set something aright after it's too late. Wanting to set something aright because it's too late. Constraining, controlling, directing: the triad of impotence.
Every day we drift further from her, every step we take is a step away from her. Living on means on and on, further and further away from her. We dig in our heels against the days, but the days roll over us. They drag us along, carry us off to places that bear a remarkable resemblance to something we once knew. And yet everything's different. Did someone go and rearrange things on us, while we were away? We keep running into things, hitting snags again and again, for we have no idea where in the hell we've ended up.
Our house, the house of two strangers. Do they have a child? The silence makes it hard to tell. We grope our way around. We cast about for the smell of laundered whites in clean rooms, the breath-soft calm of the afternoon nap. Happiness is something you mention only once you can no longer find it. The cotton hush, the filtered sunlight.
Quiet it is, but the wrong quiet. From all the cupboards, all the corners, panic can suddenly jump out at you. Despair lurks everywhere. We stay on our guard, we try not to look. Not at the little outfits in the laundry basket. And definitely not at the crib either, the little red blanket with the milk stain, the cap with earflaps. No! Don't look! It's only the sickest catastrophe, hidden especially in the little things dearest to us.
We have to learn to defend ourselves, we're far too vulnerable this way. When a baby's cap strikes fear into you, you're in trouble.
The constant feeling something's not right, that things need sorting out around here. Who clipped away all the blossoms, damn it? The garden was just starting to flower. I know, I know (things don't turn out the way they're supposed to).
We have to watch what we do, mistakes have been made, something has gone fundamentally wrong. And meanwhile, like a stowaway in my thoughts, the spurious assumption that we'll find a way out of this. All we have to do is get organized. Losing something simply means you don't know where you put it. So take a good look around, even in the last place you'd ever think. Especially there. And tidy up after yourself right away, otherwise you'll lose track. When things don't have a place to belong, it all comes to a shrieking halt. Before you know it, hideous sorrow will have put on the little dress with the animals, and will be leaving the smallest of socks around, right where you'll find them.
Shadowchild by P.F. Thomése was translated by Sam Garrett and published by FSG in 2005. I knew of the author from his story "Leviathan" in the excellent Dedalus Book of Dutch Fantasy (the Dedalus anthologies contain imaginative fiction -- the "fantasy" label is a bit misleading). I think it's clear from the passage above that Thomése is a major writer. I hope more of his work will be translated.
P.F. Thomése was born in the Netherlands in 1958. He won the AKO Literature Prize with his first book, the short-story collection Zuidland (South Land), in 1991. He went on to publish two novels, Heldenjaren (Heroic Years) and Het zesde bedrijf (The Sixth Act), and another collection of short stories, Haagse liefde & De vieze engel (Love in The Hague & The Dirty Angel).
Thomése made his international breakthrough with the memoir Shadow Child, which has been published in more than 15 countries. In 2007 he published Vladiwostok!, a political satire about power shifting in the media.
"Here we are," whispered Gaspari. "Now I go forward with the plank."
Whereupon, holding the board in his hands, he let himself fall slowly into the middle of the bushes, closely followed by the boys. Without the enemy being aware of them, they succeeded in reaching the desired point.
But here Gaspari stopped short, as if absorbed in thought (the cloud still hung over them and from afar came a plaintive cry like a wail). What a queer turn of events, he thought -- only two hours ago I was in the inn, with my wife and the children, seated at table; and now I am in this unexplored land, thousands of miles away, fighting with savages.
Gaspari looked around him. No longer was there a little valley suitable for boys' games, nor were there ordinary hills like cakes, nor was there the road that led up the valley, or the inn, or the red tennis court. He saw below him huge cliffs, different from any he remembered, that fell away endlessly toward waves of forests; he saw beyond that the quaking reflection of deserts; and still farther on he perceived other lights, confused signs indicating the mystery of the world. And here in front of him, on top of the cliff, was a sinister fortified town; gloomy walls supported it crookedly and the flat roofs were crowned with skulls, gleaming in the sunlight, skulls that seemed to be laughing. The country of curses and myths, of intact solitudes, the ultimate truth granted in our dreams!
A wooden door (which did not exist) stood ajar; it was covered with mysterious signs, and groaned at every puff of wind. Gaspari was the closest to it, perhaps two feet away. He began to raise the plank slowly, so as to let one end of it drop on the opposite bank.
"Treachery!" shouted Sisto at that very moment, perceiving the attack, and jumped to his feet, laughing, armed with a great bow. When he spied Gaspari he stopped for a moment, surprised. Then he drew a wooden arrow out of his pocket, a harmless shaft; he fitted it into the cord of his bow and took aim.
But meanwhile from the half-open door covered with obscure signs (which did not exist) Gaspari saw a wizard come out, all scaly with leprosy and hell. He saw him draw himself up to a great height, his eyes gazing with a soulless stare, a bow in his hand, drawn back with infernal force. Gaspari let go of the plank then, and drew back in alarm. But the other had already shot his arrow.
Struck in the chest, Gaspari fell among the bushes.
--Dino Buzzati, from "The Bewitched Businessman," trans. Sarah Gibbs. Included in an Avon mass-market paperback anthology, The Uncommon Reader, 1965. I love that international literature made it to US readers in countless little paperbacks. I recently found a "horror" anthology which also included a Buzzati story.
Buzzati was also an artist, and the image above is his. Also see these links: one, two, three.
I plan to post often about Buzzati.