Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The real face appears

...an excerpt from...
The Blind Owl
by Sadegh Hedayat

Life as it proceeds reveals, coolly an dispassionately, what lies behind the mask that each man wears.  It would seem that every one possesses several faces.  Some people use only one all the time, and it then, naturally, becomes soiled and wrinkled.  These are the thrifty sort.  Others look after their masks in the hope of passing them on to their descendants.  Others again are constantly changing their faces.  But all of them, when they reach old age, realize one day that the mask they are wearing is their last and that it will soon be worn out, and then, from behind the last mask, the real face appears.

I'll tell you what happened up there

...an excerpt from...
Trout Fishing in America
by Richard Brautigan

I was sitting on a stool in the bookstore one afternoon reading a book that was in the shape of a chalice.  The book had clear pages like gin, and the first page in the book read: 

Billy the Kid born November 23, 1859 in New York City

The owner of the bookstore came up to me, and put his arm on my shoulder and said, "Would you like to get laid?" His voice was very kind. 

"No," I said.

"You're wrong," he said, and then without saying anything else, he went out in front of the bookstore, and stopped a pair of total strangers, a man and a woman.  He talked to them for a few moments.  I couldn't hear what he was saying.  He pointed at me in the bookstore.  The woman nodded her head and then the man nodded his head.

They came into the bookstore.

I was embarrassed.  I could not leave the bookstore because they were entering by the only door, so I decided to go upstairs and go to the toilet.  I got up abruptly and walked to the back of the bookstore and went upstairs to the bathroom, and they followed after me.

I could hear them on the stairs.

I waited for a long time in the bathroom and they waited an equally long time in the other room.  They never spoke. When I came out of the bathroom, the woman was lying naked on the couch, and the man was sitting in a chair with his hat on his lap.  

"Don't worry about him," the girl said.  "These things make no difference to him.  He's rich.  He has 3,859 Rolls Royces."  The girl was very pretty and her body was like a clear mountain river of skin and muscle flowing over the rocks of bone and hidden nerves.  

"Come to me," she said.  "And come inside me for we are Aquarius and I love you."

I looked a the man sitting in the chair.  He was not smiling and he did not look sad.

I took off my shoes and all my clothes.  The man did not say a word.

The girl's body moved ever so slightly from side to side.

There was nothing else I could do for my body was like birds sitting on a telephone wire strung out down the world, clouds tossing the wires carefully.

I laid the girl.

It was like the eternal 59th second when it becomes a minute and then looks kind of sheepish.

"Good," the girl said, and kissed me on the face.

The man sat there without speaking or moving or sending out any emotion into the room.  I guess he was rich and owned 3,859 Rolls Royces.

Afterwards the girl got dressed and she and the man left.  They walked down the stairs and on their way out, I heard him say his first words.

"Would you like to go to Ernie's for dinner?"

"I don't know," the girl said.  "It's a little early to think about dinner."

Then I heard the door close and they were gone.  I got dressed and went downstairs.  The flesh about my body fell soft and relaxed like an experiment in functional background music.

The owner of the bookstore was sitting at his desk behind the counter.  "I'll tell you what happened up there," he said, in a beautiful anti-three-legged-crow voice, in an anti-dandelion side of the mountain voice.

"What?" I said.

"You found in the Spanish Civil War.  You were a young Communist from Cleveland, Ohio.  She was a painter.  A New York Jew who was sightseeing in the Spanish Civil War as if it were the Mardi Gras in New Orleans being acted out by Greek statues.

"She was drawing a picture of the dead anarchist when you met her.  She asked you to stand beside the anarchist and act as if you had killed him.  You slapped her across the face and said something that would be embarrassing for me to repeat.

"You both fell very much in love.

"Once while you were at the front she read Anatomy of Melancholy and did 349 drawings of a lemon.

"Your love for each other was mostly spiritual.  Neither one of you performed like millionaires in bed.

"When Barcelona fell, you and she flew to England, and then took a ship back to New York.  Your love for each other remained in Spain.  It was only a war love.  You loved only yourselves, loving each other in Spain during the war.  On the Atlantic you were different toward each other and became every day more and more like people lost from each other.

"Every wave on the Atlantic was like a dead seagull dragging its driftwood artillery from horizon to horizon. 

"When the ship bumped up against America, you departed without saying anything and never saw each other again.  The last I heard of you, you were still living in Philadelphia."

"That's what you think happened up there?" I said.

"Partly," he said.  "Yes, that's part of it."

He took out his pipe and filled it with tobacco and lit it.

"Do you want me to tell you what else happened up there?" he said.

"Go ahead."

"You crossed the border into Mexico," he said. "You rode your horse into a small town.  The people knew who you were and they were afraid of you.  They knew you had killed many men with that gun you wore at your side.  The town itself was so small that it didn't have a priest. 

"When the rurales saw you, they left the town. Tough as they were, they did not want to have anything to do with you.  The rurales left.

"You became the most powerful man in the town.

"You were seduced by a thirteen-year-old girl, and you and she lived together in an adobe hut, and practically all you did was make love.

"She was slender and had long dark hair.  You made love standing, sitting, lying on the dirt floor with pigs and chickens around you.  The walls, the floor and even the roof of the hut were coated with your sperm and her come.

"You slept on the floor at night and used your sperm for a pillow and her come for a blanket.

"The people in the town were so afraid of you that they could do nothing.

"After a while she started going around town without any clothes on, and the people of the town said that it was not a good thing, and when you started going around without any clothes, and when both of you began making love on the back of your horse in the middle of the zocalo, the people of the town became so afraid that they abandoned the town.  It's been abandoned ever since.  

"People won't live there.

"Neither of you lived to be twenty-one.  It was not necessary.

"See, I do know what happened upstairs," he said.  He smiled at me kindly.  His eyes were like the shoelaces of a harpsichord.

I thought about what happened upstairs.

"You know what I say is the truth," he said.  "For you saw it with your own eyes and traveled it with your own body.  Finish the book you were reading before you were interrupted.  I'm glad you got laid."

Once resumed, the pages of the book began to speed up and turn faster and faster until they were spinning like wheels in the sea.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The two of me

"Borges and I"
by Jorge Luis Borges
(as published in "Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings" in 1964)

The other one, the one called Borges, is the one things happen to.  I walk through the streets of Buenos Aires and stop for a moment, perhaps mechanically now, to look at the arch of an entrance hall and the grillwork on the gate; I know of Borges from the mail and see his name on a list of professors or in a biographical dictionary.  I like hourglasses, maps, eighteenth-century typography, the taste of coffee and the prose of Stevenson; he shares these preferences, but in a vain way that turns them into the attributes of an actor.  It would be an exaggeration to say that ours is a hostile relationship; I live, let myself go on living, so that Borges may contrive his literature, and this literature justifies me.  It is no effort for me to confess that he has achieved some valid pages, but those pages cannot save me, perhaps because what is good belongs to no one, not even him, but rather to the language and to tradition.  Besides, I am destined to perish, definitively, and only some instant of myself can survive in him.  Little by little, I am giving over everything to him, though I am quite aware of his perverse custom of falsifying and magnifying things.

Spinoza knew that all things long to persist in their being; the stone eternally wants to be a stone and the tiger a tiger.  I shall remain in Borges, not in myself (if it is true that I am someone), but I recognize myself less in his books than in many others or in the laborious strumming of a guitar.  Years ago I tried to free myself from him and went from the mythologies of the suburbs to the games with time and infinity, but those games belong to Borges now and I shall have to imagine other things.  Thus my life is a flight and I lose everything and everything belongs to oblivion, or to him.

I do not know which of us has written this page.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

The world is everything that is the case

...an excerpt from...
Wittgenstein's Mistress
by David Markson

There are no painting materials in this house.

Actually there was one canvas on a wall, when I came.  Directly above and to the side of where this typewriter is, in fact.

A painting of this very house, although it took me some days to recognize that.

Not because it was not a satisfactory representation, but because I had not happened to look at the house from that perspective, as yet.

I had already removed the painting into another room by the time I did so.

Still, I believed it was a painting of this house.

After I had concluded that it was, or that it appeared to be, I did not go back into the room to verify my conclusion


There are no paintings in the closed rooms.  Or at least not in the three closed rooms that are downstairs.

Though I have just replaced the painting of the house.


Which I now cannot be positive is a painting of this house, or of a house that is simply very much like this house.


Now the painting does appear to be of this house.

As a matter of fact there also appears to be somebody at the very window, upstairs, from which I watch the sunset.

I had not noticed her at all, before this.

If it is a she.  The brushwork is fairly abstract, at that point, so that there is little more than a hint of anybody, really.

Still, it is interesting to speculate suddenly about just who might be lurking at my bedroom window while I am typing down here right below.

Well, and on the wall just above and to the side of me, at the same time.

All of this being merely in a manner of speaking, of course.

Although I have just also closed my eyes, and so could additionally say that for the moment the person was not only both upstairs and on the wall, but in my head, as well.

Were I to walk outside to where I can see the window, and do the same thing all over again, the arrangement could become much more complicated than that.

For that matter I have only now noticed something else in the painting.

The door that I generally use, coming and going from the front deck, is open.

Not two minutes ago, I happen to have closed that same door.

Obviously no action of my own, such as that, changes anything in the painting.

Nonetheless I have again just closed my eyes, trying to see if I could imagine the painting with the door to the deck closed.  

I was not able to close the door to the deck in the version of the painting in my head.

Had I any pigments, I could paint it closed on the painting itself, should this begin to trouble me seriously.

There are no painting materials in this house.

Unquestionably there would have had to be all sorts of such materials here at one time, however.

Well, with the exception of those that she carried to the dunes, where else would the painter have deposited them?

Now I have made the painter a she, also.  Doubtless because of my continued sense of it being a she at the window.

But in either case one may still assume that there must be additional painting materials inside the house in the painting, even if one cannot see any of them in the painting itself.

As a matter of fact it is no less possible that there are additional people inside the house as well, above and beyond the woman at my window.

Then again, very likely the others could be at the beach, since it is late on a summer afternoon in the canvas, although no later than four o'clock.

So that next one is forced to wonder why the woman at the window did not go to the beach herself, for that matter.

Although on second thought I have decided that the woman may well be a child.

So that perhaps she had been made to remain at home as a punishment, after having misbehaved.  

Or perhaps she was even ill.

Possibly there is nobody at the window in the canvas.


Although I have now made a categorical decision that the painting is not a painting of this house.

Assuredly, it is a painting of the other house, farther down the beach, which burned.

To tell the truth I cannot call that other house to mind at all, any longer.

Although perhaps that house and this house were identical.  Or quite similar, at any rate.

Houses along the beach are often that way, being constructed by people with basically similar tastes.

Though as a matter of fact I cannot be absolutely certain that the painting is on the wall beside me any longer itself, since I am no longer looking at it.

Quite possibly I put it back into the room with the atlas and the life of Brahms.  I have a distinct suspicion that it had entered my mind to do that.

The painting is on the wall.

And at least we have verified that it was not the life of Brahms that I set fire to the pages from also, out on the beach.

Unless as I have suggested somebody in this house had owned two lives of Brahms, both printed on cheap paper and both ruined by dampness.

Or two people had owned them, which is perhaps more likely.

Perhaps two people who were not particularly friendly with each other, in fact.  Though both of whom were interested in Brahms.

Perhaps one of those was the painter.  Well, and the other the person in the window, why not?

Perhaps the painter, being a landscape painter, did not wish to paint the other person at all, actually. But perhaps the other person insisted upon looking out of the window while the painter was at work.

Very possibly this could have been what made them angry with each other to begin with.

If the painter had closed her eyes, or had simply refused to look, would the other person have still been at the window?

One might as well ask if the house itself would have been there.

And why have I troubled to close my own eyes again? 

I am still feeling the typewriter, naturally.  And hearing the keys.

Also I can feel the seat of this chair, through my undergarments.

Doing this out at the dunes, the painter would have felt the breeze.  And a sense of the sunshine.

Well, and she would have heard the surf. 

Yesterday, when I was hearing Kirsten Flagstad singing The Alto Rhapsody, what exactly was I hearing?

Winters, when the snow covers everything, leaving only that strange calligraphy of the spines of the trees, it is a little like closing one's eyes.

Certainly reality is altered.

One morning you awaken, and all color has ceased to exist. 

Everything that one is able to see, then, is like that nine-foot canvas of mine, with its opaque four white coats of plaster and glue.

I have said that.

Still, it is almost as if one might paint the entire world, and in any manner one wished.

Letting one's brushing become abstract at a window, or not.  


There is nobody at the window in the painting of the house, by the way.

I have now concluded that what I believed to be a person is a shadow.

If it is not a shadow, it is perhaps a curtain.

As a matter of fact it could actually be nothing more than an attempt to imply depths, within the room.

Although in a manner of speaking all that is really in the window is burnt sienna pigment. And some yellow ochre.

In fact there is now window either, in that same manner of speaking, but only shape.

So that any few speculations I have made about the person at the window would therefore now appear to be rendered meaningless, obviously.

Unless of course I subsequently become convinced that there is somebody at the window all over again.

I have put that badly.

What I intended to say was that I may possibly become newly convinced that there is somebody at the window, hardly that somebody who had been at the window has gone away but might come back.

In either case it remains a fact that no altered perception of my own, such as this one, changes anything in the painting.

So that perhaps my earlier speculations remain valid after all.

I have very little idea what I mean by that.

One can scarcely speculate about a person when there is no person to speculate about.

Yet there is no way of denying that one did make such speculations.

Two days ago, when I was hearing Kathleen Ferrier, what exactly was I hearing?

Yesterday, when I was speculating about a person at the window in the painting, what exactly was I speculating about?

I have just put the painting back into the room with the atlas and the life of Brahms.  

As a matter of fact I have now also had another night's sleep.

I mention that, this time, only because in a manner of speaking one could now say that it has this quickly become the day after tomorrow.

Certain questions would still continue to appear unanswerable, however.

Such as, for instance, if I have concluded that there is nothing in the painting except for shapes, am I also concluding that there is nothing on these pages except letters of the alphabet?

If one understood only the Greek alphabet, what would be on these pages?

Monday, December 02, 2013


...an excerpt from...
The End of the Road
by John Barth

"In life," he said, "there are no essentially major or minor characters.  To that extent, all fiction and biography, and most historiography, are a lie.  Everyone is necessarily the hero of his own life story.  Hamlet could be told from Polonius's point of view and called The Tragedy of Polonius, Lord Chamberlain of Denmark.  He didn't think he was a minor character in anything, I daresay.  Or suppose  you're an usher in a wedding.  From the groom's viewpoint he's the major character; the other's play support parts, even the bride.  From your viewpoint, though, the wedding is a minor episode in the very interesting history of your life, and the bride and groom both are minor figures.  What you've done is choose to play the part of a minor character: it can be pleasant for you to pretend to be less important than you know you are, as Odysseus does when he disguises as a swineherd.  And every member of the congregation at the wedding sees himself as the major character, condescending to witness the spectacle.  So in this sense fiction isn't a lie at all, but a true representation of the distortion that everyone makes of life.

"Now, not only are we the heroes of our own life stories--we're the ones who conceive of the story, and give other people the essences of minor characters.  But since no man's life story as a rule is ever one story with a coherent plot, we're always reconceiving just the sort of hero we are, and consequently just the sort of minor roles that other people are supposed to play.  This is generally true.  If any man displays almost the same character day in and day out, all day long, it's either because he has no imagination, like an actor who can play only one role, or because he has an imagination so comprehensive that he sees each particular situation of his life as an episode in some grand over-all plot, and can so distort the situations that the same type of hero can deal with them all.  But this is most unusual.

"This kind of role-assigning is myth-making, and when it's done consciously or unconsciously for the purpose of aggrandizing or protecting your ego--and it's probably done for this purpose all the time--it becomes Mythotherapy.  Here's the point: an immobility such as you experienced that time in Penn Station is possible only to a person who for some reason or other has ceased to participate in Mythotherapy.  At that time on the bench you were neither a major nor a minor character: you were no character at all.  It's because this happened once that it's necessary for me to explain to you something that comes quite naturally to everyone else.  It's like teaching a paralytic how to walk again.

"Now many crises in people's lives occur because the hero role that they've assumed for one situation or set of situations no longer applies to some new situation that comes up, or--the same thing in effect--because they haven't the imagination to distort the new situation to fit their old role.  This happens to parents, for instance, when their children grow older, and to the lovers when one of them begins to dislike the other.  If the new situation is too overpowering to ignore, and they can't find a mask to meet it with, they may become schizophrenic--a last-resort mask--or simply shattered.  All questions of integrity involve this consideration, because a man's integrity consists in being faithful to the script he has written for himself.

"I've said you're too unstable to play any one part all the time--you're also too unimaginative--so for you these crises had better be met by changing scripts as often as necessary.  This should come naturally to you; the important thing for you is to realize what your'e doing so you won't get caught without a script, or with the wrong script in a given situation.  You did quite well, for example, for a beginner, to walk in here so confidently and almost arrogantly a while ago, and assign me the role of a quack.  But you must be able to change masks at once if by some means or other I'm able to make the one you walked in with untenable.  Perhaps--I'm just suggesting an offhand possibility--you could change to thinking of me as The Sagacious Old Mentor, a kind of Machiavellian Nestor, say, and yourself as The Ingenuous But Promising Young Protege, a young Alexander, who someday will put all these teachings into practice and far outshine the master.  Do you get the idea? Or--this is repugnant, but it could be used as a last resort--The Silently Indignant Young Man, who tolerates the ravings of a Senile Crank but who will leave this house unsullied by them.  I call this repugnant because if you ever used it you'd cut yourself off from much that you haven't learned yet.

"It's extremely important that you learn to assume these masks wholeheartedly.  Don't think there's anything behind them: ego means I, and I means ego, and the ego by definition is a mask.  Where there's no ego--this is you on the bench--there's no I. If you sometimes have the feeling that your mask is insincere--impossible word!--it's only because one of your masks is incompatible with another.  You mustn't put on two at a time.  There's a source of conflict, and conflict between masks, like absence of masks, is a source of immobility.  The more sharply you can dramatize your situation, and define your own role and everybody else's role, the safer you'll be.  It doesn't matter in Mythotherapy for paralytics whether your role is major or minor, as long as it's clearly conceived, but in the nature of things it'll normally always be major.  Now say something."

I could not.

"Say something!" the Doctor ordered.  "Move!  Take a role!"