Monday, 5 October 2015

Irene Nemirovsky

The setting: France during WWI.
Soldiers in the trenches. He had been prepared to die a heroic death, but soon the idea of death terrified him…as he looked at the little blackish heaps lying between two trenches, dead bodies as numerous and insignificant as dead flies in the first cold snap of winter.
Returning soldiers: All they wanted to do was eat as much as possible, get drunk, go wild…The beast would be released, the beast you had carried within yourself and kept under control for four long years.
A woman in the post-war years:
Marriage: Mediocre marriages are based on partial confidences, she thinks: one of you lets slip a confession, a sigh; a fragment of some dream or desire is shared, but then fear sets in; it is retracted…but it is too late. The other has seen your tears, a certain smile, an expression that is hard to forget.
The superiority of men. I have to give in, she thought. After all, men are stronger, more intelligent than we are. If he thinks that this is what love is, nothing more than sleeping around, he must be right. I can’t stand up to him, I can’t. I couldn’t prove to him that he’s wrong.
Married love. His boredom, a kind of gloomy inertia of the soul, had set in very soon after they were married…He doesn’t love me any more, she thought, but when reality is too bitter, we reject it; the heart protects itself against the truth and tirelessly invent its own dreams. It will all pass, she told herself.

Despair. We don’t give in easily to despair. We put up barriers of hope, which we have to remove one by one, and only then does despair penetrate to the heart of man who gradually recognizes the enemy, calls it by name, and is horrified.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

KAFKA AND MARRIAGE. Frailty, lack of self-confidence, and guilt feelings.

I had almost no sense of the meaning and possibility of marriage for me…As a child I developed very slowly. These things were too external, too far removed from me. Occasionally there was a need to think of marriage but there was no indication that I was up for a continual, decisive, not to say, most bitter test. In reality my attempts to marry became the greatest and most hopeful attempt to escape you, and my failure was correspondingly great.  Since everything in that area is a failure, I fear I will not succeed in making you understand the significance of my attempts at marriage, and yet the success of this whole letter to you depends on it, for on the one hand all positive strength available to me was concentrated in those attempts, on the other hand all negative strengths accumulated in them too, and with a passion – all the results of your education, which I have described, that is: frailty, lack of self-confidence, and guilt feelings. They formed a kind of barrier between myself and marriage.  It is difficult moreover to offer an explanation because I have spent so many days and nights digging through and thinking about this subject that I am momentarily disoriented. The only element that makes my explanation easier is your complete misinterpretation of the matter, at least in my opinion. It does not seem to be difficult to introduce at least a small correction in this complete misinterpretation of yours.

First of all, you place my failure to marry among my other failures. I wouldn’t object to that, as long as you accept the explanation for my failures which I have offered.  My failure to marry is part of that chain, but you underestimate the significance of this matter to such an extent that when we speak of it, we actually speak of different things. I dare say nothing ever happened to you in your whole life which had such significance for you as my attempts to marry had for me…

(Source: Letter to my Father, text on; my translation)

Monday, 28 September 2015

Image: Kafka and Protocol,

When Kafka began to engage with Judaism, his father disapproved of his interest, as he did of all his interests. In fact, because Kafka turned to Judaism, his father turned away from it:
Through me, Judaism became revolting to you, you could no longer read Jewish writings. They “disgusted you”. That may have meant that you insisted on the kind of Judaism you had shown me in my childhood, considering it the only correct Judaism and regarding anything beyond as nothing. But such an insistence is hardly credible. If so, your disgust – not directed against Judaism itself but rather against my person – could mean only that you were aware subconsciously that your kind of Judaism and my Jewish education was frail, and you did not want to be reminded of that and responded to all reminders with open hatred. In any case, your negative assessment of my new Judaism was quite exaggerated…

You were more on track with your dislike of my writings and their context, of which you were not aware. Through my writing I had indeed managed to distance myself and gain some independence from you, even if I was reminded of a worm that had been stepped on and whose back was crushed, although it managed to wrench away its front section and drag itself to the side. I was safe to some extent, there was a certain relief. Your immediate dislike for my writings was welcome for once. My ambition and my pride were hurt, however, by your reception of my books (notorious among us). “Put it on the night table,” you said. (Most of the time you were playing cards when the book arrived). But deep down I was content, not only out of rebellious maliciousness, not only because I was pleased that my view of our relationship had been confirmed, but spontaneously because that phrase sounded like “Now you are free!” But of course that was a mistaken notion. I was not free, or at best, not yet free. My writings were about you. I lamented there what I could not lament addressing you directly. It was a purposely drawn out farewell from you.

(Source: Letter to my Father, text on; my translation)

Monday, 21 September 2015

Roberto Bolano on what is irretrievably lost

WRITING. Exercising the memory by focusing deliberately rather than randomly on images.
DESIRE FOR SOLITUDE. Now, in a dark and inescapable way, we’re alone, which until recently was something that I desired, though certainly not in the way it came about.
MELANCHOLY. I was gripped then by a vast melancholy that seized my belly, my spine, my bottom ribs, until I doubled over.
HIS FACE. He was tall, skeletal and faceless, or with his face weathered in a kind of dark and shifting cloud.
FACES.  They look at me with the disapproving faces of people who can hardly grasp that there are those who rise after noon.

THE TILTED MIRROR. Looking into the mirror above the bar, I suddenly realized that my own reflection wasn’t visible. Slowly and fearfully I slid to the left along the counter. Gradually my image began to appear…and though what I saw was rather unpleasant (wrinkled clothes, flushed cheeks, tousled hair), it was still me, alive and tangible. I felt relief and a deep weariness.

Friday, 18 September 2015


OMENS. They say that in the hour before an earthquake the clouds hang leaden in the sky, the wind slows to a hot breath, and the birds fall quiet in the trees of the town square.   – No, real disaster will announce itself by hardly moving its lips.
POLICE MEN. Nice lips. Quite full, and rather juicy –looking. He wasn’t beautiful, but I was  transfixed by the way he stood and cast his eyes down deferentially when he spoke.  And of course there’s always something about a uniform. You wonder if the protocol will peel off with the jacket, I suppose.
DAWN. The orange glow of the night [cast by the distant city] faded, and I started to see the fields and the hedges around us.  Everything was gray at first by then the colors began to come into the land – blue and green, but very soft, as if the colors did not have any happiness in them.
FINDING GRIEF. I am drilling down through the memories, searching for the capstone, the memory which when cracked would release some symptom of anguish…It was exhausting prospecting for grief like this, unsure if grief was even there to be found.
OFFICIALS. The men seemed limp, half-garroted by their ties. Everyone stooped, or scuttled, or nervously ticked. They carried themselves like weather presenters preparing to lower expectations for the bank holiday weekend.
AN AFFAIR COMING ON: It became a possibility, albeit in a relatively controlled form that both of us could still step back from. Here it was, if we wanted it, hanging from a taut umbilicus between us: an affair between adults, minute yet fully formed, with all its forbidden trysts and muffled paroxysms and shattering betrayals already present, like the buds of fingers and toes.
THE LOOK OF GASOLINE. The hose went right inside the fuel tank, so that the transfer of the fluid was hidden. I still do not know what gasoline truly looks like. If it looks like the way it smells, it must flash like the most brilliant happiness, so intense that you would go blind or crazy if you even looked at it.  Maybe that is why they do not let us see gasoline.

DISAPPEARING IN THE CROWD IN LONDONI was inside the crowd, getting pushed this way and that way. I did not mind and I did not look back. I let myself be taken along by this river of human souls that flowed beside the water. I was happy. I smelled the mud on the banks of the river and the dust of the gray pigeons’ wings and the flat dry smell of the ancient stone buildings and the hot breath of cigarettes and chewing gum that floated through the crowed.