Saturday, December 15, 2012

To sleep, perchance to dream excerpt from...
At Swim-Two-Birds
by Flann O'Brien

What is wrong with Cryan and most people, said Byrne, is that they do not spend sufficient time in bed.  When a man sleeps, he is steeped and lost in a limp toneless happiness: awake he is restless, tortured by his body and the illusion of existence.  Why have men spent the centuries seeking to overcome the awakened body?  Put it to sleep, that is a better way.  Let it serve only to turn the sleeping soul over, to change the blood-stream and thus make possible a deeper and more refined sleep.

I agree, I said.

We must invert our conception of repose and activity, he continued.  We should not sleep to recover the energy expended when awake but rather wake occasionally to defecate the unwanted energy that sleep engenders.  This might be done quickly--a five-mile race at full tilt around the town and then back to bed and the kingdom of the shadows.

Giving Nature her ransom excerpt from...
Rabbit, Run
by John Updike

He feels the truth: the thing that has left his life has left irrevocably; no search would recover it.  No flight would reach it.  It was here, beneath the town, in these smells and these voices forever behind him.  The fullness ends when we give Nature her ransom, when we make children for her.  Then she is through with us, and we become, first inside, and then outside, junk.  Flower stalks.

Creating the character excerpt from...
The Guiltless
by Hermann Broch

On the assumption that ideas reflecting the universality of the median may prove universally fruitful, let the hero be localized in the middle class of a medium-sized provincial town, perhaps the former capital of one of the lesser German principalities--time 1913--, in the person of a high school teacher.  It may further be assumed that if this man taught mathematics and physics he had been brought to this occupation by a small talent for exact disciplines; he had no doubt applied himself to his studies with laudable devotion, reddened ears, and a certain joyful trepidation, though it must be owned that he neither contemplated the higher principles nor aspired to the higher tasks of the discipline in question, but firmly believed that from the standpoint both of career and of intellectual achievement his teacher's certificate was the highest goal to which he could attain.  For a character constructed of middling qualities does not waste much thought about the spuriousness of things and of knowledge; they merely strike him as weird; he knows only operational problems, problems of classification and combination, never those of existence, and regardless of whether forms of life or algebraic formulas are involved, the one thing that really matters to him is that they should "come out even"; for him mathematics consists of "assignments" to be done by him or his students, and he looks upon his daily schedule and his financial worries as assignments of precisely the same order: even the so-called enjoyment of life is to him an assignment, a state of affairs prescribed partly by tradition and partly by his colleagues.  Wholly determined by the things of a flat outside world in which petty-bourgeois house furnishings and Maxwell's Law are scattered about as harmonious equals, a man of this stamp works in the laboratory and in school, gives private lessons, rides in the streetcar, drinks beer on occasional evenings, goes to the brothel afterward, goes to the doctor's, and sits at his mother's table at vacation time; black-rimmed fingernails grace his hands, reddish-blond hair his head, of disgust he knows little, but linoleum strikes him as a suitable floor covering.

Can such a minimum of personality, such a non-self, be made into an object of human interest?  Might one not just as well develop the history of some dead thing, of a shovel, for instance?

Returning to Zeno's Conscience excerpt from...
Zeno's Conscience
by Italo Svevo

I had previously posted an excerpt from Zeno's Conscience.  This can be seen as a continuation of it.  Impressive is its prescience, published in 1923, to describe both the dawning of the nuclear age and the rise of fascism. 

The doctor, when he has received this last part of my manuscript, should then give it all back to me.  I would rewrite it with real clarity, for how could I understand my life before knowing this last period of it?  Perhaps I lived all those years only to prepare myself for this!

Naturally I am not ingenuous, and I forgive the doctor for seeing life itself as a manifestation of sickness. Life does resemble sickness a bit, as it proceeds by crises and lyses, and has daily improvements and setbacks.  Unlike other sicknesses, life is always fatal.  It doesn't tolerate therapies.  It would be like stopping the holes that we have in our bodies, believing them wounds.  We would die of strangulation the moment we were treated.

Present-day life is polluted at the roots.  Man has put himself in the place of trees and animals and has polluted the air, has blocked free space.  Worse can happen.  The sad and active animal could discover other forces and press them into his service.  There is a threat of this kind in the air.  It will be followed by a great the number of humans.  Every square meter will be occupied by a man.  Who will cure us of the lack of air and of space?  Merely thinking of it, I am suffocated!

But it isn't this, not only this.

Any effort to give us health is vain.  It can belong only to the animal who knows a sole progress, that of his own organism.  When the swallow realized that for her no other life was possible except migration, she strengthened the muscle that moved her wings, and it then became the most substantial part of her organism.  The mole buried herself, and her whole body adapted to her need.  The horse grew and transformed his hoof.  We don't know the process of some animals, but it must have occurred and it will never have undermined their health.

But bespectacled man, on the contrary, invents devices outside of his body, and if health and nobility existed in the inventor, they are almost always lacking in the user.  Devices are bought, sold, and stolen, and man becomes increasingly shrewd and weaker.  His first devices seemed extensions of his arm and couldn't be effective without its strength; but, by now, the device no longer has any relation to the limb. And it is the device that creates sickness, abandoning the law that was, on all earth, the creator.  The law of the strongest vanished, and we lost healthful selection.  We would need much more than psychoanalysis.  Under the law established by the possessor of the greatest number of devices, sickness and the sick will flourish.

Perhaps, through an unheard-of catastrophe produced by devices, we will return to health.  When poison gases no longer suffice, an ordinary man, in the secrecy of a room in this world, will invent an incomparable explosive, compared to which the explosives currently in existence will be considered harmless toys.  And another man, also ordinary, but a bit sicker than others, will steal this explosive and will climb up at the center of the earth, to set it on the spot where it can have the maximum effect.  There will be an enormous explosion that no one will hear, and the earth, once again a nebula, will wander through the heavens, freed of parasites and sickness.