Saturday, May 26, 2012

Yes, I thirsted for power

My "idea" is—to become a Rothschild. I invite the reader to keep calm and not to excite himself.
I repeat it. My "idea" is to become a Rothschild, to become as rich as Rothschild, not simply rich, but as rich as Rothschild. What objects I have in view, what for, and why—all that shall come later. First I will simply show that the attainment of my object is a mathematical certainty.
It is a very simple matter; the whole secret lies in two words: OBSTINACY and PERSEVERANCE.


I've still to answer the questions, "What for?" and "Why?" Whether it's moral," and all the rest of it. I've undertaken to answer them.
I am sad at disappointing the reader straight off, sad and glad too. Let him know that in my idea there is absolutely no feeling of "revenge," nothing "Byronic"—no curses, no lamentations over my orphaned state, no tears over my illegitimacy, nothing, nothing of the sort. In fact, if a romantic lady should chance to come across my autobiography she would certainly turn up her nose. The whole object of my "idea" is—isolation. But one can arrive at isolation without straining to become a Rothschild. What has Rothschild got to do with it?
Why, this. That besides isolation I want power.
Let me tell the reader, he will perhaps be horrified at the candour of my confession, and in the simplicity of his heart will wonder how the author could help blushing: but my answer is that I'm not writing for publication, and I may not have a reader for ten years, and by that time everything will be so thoroughly past, settled and defined that there will be no need to blush. And so, if I sometimes in my autobiography appeal to my reader it is simply a form of expression. My reader is an imaginary figure.
No, it was not being illegitimate, with which I was so taunted at Touchard's, not my sorrowful childhood, it was not revenge, nor the desire to protest, that was at the bottom of my idea; my character alone was responsible for everything. At twelve years old, I believe, that is almost at the dawn of real consciousness, I began to dislike my fellow-creatures. It was not that I disliked them exactly, but that their presence weighed upon me. I was sometimes in my moments of purest sincerity quite sad that I never could express everything even to my nearest and dearest, that is, I could but will not; for some reason I restrain myself, so that I'm mistrustful, sullen and reserved. Again, I have noticed one characteristic in myself almost from childhood, that I am too ready to find fault, and given to blaming others. But this impulse was often followed at once by another which was very irksome to me: I would ask myself whether it were not my fault rather than theirs. And how often I blamed myself for nothing! To avoid such doubts I naturally sought solitude. Besides, I found nothing in the company of others, however much I tried, and I did try. All the boys of my own age anyway, all my schoolfellows, all, every one of them, turned out to be inferior to me in their ideas. I don't recall one single exception.
Yes, I am a gloomy person; I'm always shutting myself up. I often love to walk out of a room full of people. I may perhaps do people a kindness, but often I cannot see the slightest reason for doing them a kindness. People are not such splendid creatures that they are worth taking much trouble about. Why can't they approach me openly and directly, why must I always be forced to make the first overtures?
That is the question I asked myself. I am a grateful creature, and have shown it by a hundred imbecilities. If some one were frank with me, I should instantly respond with frankness and begin to love them at once. And so I have done, but they have all deceived me promptly, and have withdrawn from me with a sneer. The most candid of them all was Lambert, who beat me so much as a child, but he was only an open brute and scoundrel. And even his openness was only stupidity. Such was my state of mind when I came to Petersburg.
When I came out from Dergatchev's (and goodness only knows what made me go to him) I had gone up to Vassin, and in a rush of enthusiasm I had begun singing his praises. And that very evening I felt that I liked him much less. Why? Just because by my praise of him I had demeaned myself before him. Yet one might have thought it would have been the other way: a man just and generous enough to give another his due, even to his own detriment, ought to stand higher in personal dignity than anyone. And though I quite understood this, I did like Vassin less, much less in fact. I purposely choose an example with which the reader is familiar. I even thought of Kraft with a bitter, sickly feeling, because he had led me into the passage, and this feeling lasted till the day when Kraft's state of mind at the time was revealed, and it was impossible to be angry with him. From the time when I was in the lowest class in the grammar-school, as soon as any of my comrades excelled me in school work, or witty answers or physical strength, I immediately gave up talking or having anything to do with them. Not that I disliked them or wished them not to succeed; I simply turned away from them because such was my character.
Yes, I thirsted for power, I've thirsted for it all my life, power and solitude. I dreamed of it at an age when every one would have laughed at me to my face if they could have guessed what was in my head. That was why I so liked secrecy. And indeed all my energy went into dreams, so much so that I had no time to talk. This led to my being unsociable, and my absentmindedness led people to more unpleasant conclusions about me, but my rosy cheeks belied their suspicions.
I was particularly happy when, covering myself up in bed at night, I began in complete solitude, with no stir or sound of other people round me, to re-create life on a different plan. I was most desperately dreamy up to the time of the "idea," when all my dreams became rational instead of foolish, and passed from the fantastic realms of romance to the reasonable world of reality.
Everything was concentrated into one object. Not that they were so very stupid before, although there were masses and masses of them. But I had favourites … there is no need to bring them in here, however.
Power! I am convinced that very many people would think it very funny if they knew that such a "pitiful" creature was struggling for power. But I shall surprise them even more: perhaps from my very first dreams that is, almost from my earliest childhood, I could never imagine myself except in the foremost place, always and in every situation in life. I will add a strange confession: it is the same perhaps to this day. At the same time, let me observe that I am not apologizing for it.
That is the point of my idea, that is the force of it, that money is the one means by which the humblest nonentity may rise to the FOREMOST PLACE. I may not be a nonentity, but I know from the looking-glass that my exterior does not do me justice, for my face is commonplace. But if I were as rich as Rothschild, who would find fault with my face? And wouldn't thousands of women be ready to fly to me with all their charms if I whistled to them? I am sure that they would honestly consider me good-looking. Suppose I am clever. But were I as wise as Solomon some one would be found wiser still, and I should be done for. But if I were a Rothschild what would that wise man be beside me? Why, they would not let him say a word beside me! I may be witty, but with Talleyrand or Piron I'm thrown into the shade; but if I were Rothschild, where would Piron be, and where Talleyrand even, perhaps? Money is, of course, despotic power, and at the same time it is the greatest leveller, and that is its chief power. Money levels all inequality. I settled all that in Moscow.
You will see, of course, in this idea nothing but insolence, violence, the triumph of the nonentity over the talented. I admit that it is an impudent idea (and for that reason a sweet one). But let it pass: you imagine that I desire power to be able to crush, to avenge myself. That is just the point, that that is how the commonplace would behave. What is more, I'm convinced that thousands of the wise and talented who are so exalted, if the Rothschilds' millions suddenly fell to their lot could not resist behaving like the most vulgar and commonplace, and would be more oppressive than any. My idea is quite different. I'm not afraid of money. It won't crush me and it won't make me crush others.
What I want isn't money, or rather money is not necessary to me, nor power either. I only want what is obtained by power, and cannot be obtained without it; that is, the calm and solitary consciousness of strength! That is the fullest definition of liberty for which the whole world is struggling! Liberty! At last I have written that grand word… . Yes, the solitary consciousness of strength is splendid and alluring. I have strength and I am serene. With the thunderbolts in his hands Jove is serene; are his thunders often heard? The fool fancies that he is asleep. But put a literary man or a peasant-woman in Jove's place, and the thunder would never cease!
If I only have power, I argued, I should have no need to use it. I assure you that of my own free will I should take the lowest seat everywhere. If I were a Rothschild, I would go about in an old overcoat with an umbrella. What should I care if I were jostled in the crowd, if I had to skip through the mud to avoid being run over? The consciousness that I was myself, a Rothschild, would even amuse me at the moment. I should know I could have a dinner better than anyone, that I could have the best cook in the world, it would be enough for me to know it. I would eat a piece of bread and ham and be satisfied with the consciousness of it. I think so even now.
I shouldn't run after the aristocracy, but they would run after me. I shouldn't pursue women, but they would fly to me like the wind, offering me all that women can offer. "The vulgar" run after money, but the intelligent are attracted by curiosity to the strange, proud and reserved being, indifferent to everything. I would be kind, and would give them money perhaps, but I would take nothing from them. Curiosity arouses passion, perhaps I may inspire passion. They will take nothing away with them I assure you, except perhaps presents that will make me twice as interesting to them.

 Dostoyevsky, The Adolescent (1875), translated by Constance Garnett

Thursday, May 24, 2012

I love in my own way; more or less than you?

Flaubert a connu Louise Colet, une fille d’Aix-en-Provence, alors un poète assez connu, à Paris en Juillet 1846. Il en est tombé immédiatement amoureux. Ils se sont séparés pour la première fois en 1848, après le décès de leur enfant (peu après sa naissance.) Hélas, on n’est jamais aimé autant qu’on le souhaite, comme le prouve une lettre qu’elle lui a écrite en Août 1846:

Soon she [Louise Colet] began to make him feel guilty, as he was not able to respond to her as she would have liked. She wanted all his thought at all hours of his waking day, and she was always accusing him of not loving her enough:

Do you know that you are cruel? You accuse me of not loving you, and you use the argument of my departures. That is wrong! Can I stay? What would you do in my place?
You talk of your grief; I believe in it, I have the proof of it, and I feel it in me, what is more. But I see another grief, a grief here at my side, which never complains, which even smiles and beside which yours, how­ ever deep it may be, will never be more than a sting beside a burn, a convulsion beside a death rattle. Here is the vice in which I'm held. The two women whom I most love have put in my heart a bit with two reins, by which they hold me; they pull me alternately, by love and by grief. Forgive me if this angers you again. I no longer know what to say to you; I hesitate now when I speak to you, I'm afraid to make you cry, and, when I touch you, to wound you....
I love in my own way; more or less than you? God only knows. But I love you, and when you tell me that I've perhaps done for common women what I've done for you, I've done it for no one, no one - I swear it. You're the only person for whom I've made a journey, and that I've loved enough for that, because you're the first person who has loved me as you love me. No, never before you has anyone else wept the same tears, or looked at me with such a tender and sad look. Yes, the memory of the night of Wednesday is my sweetest memory of love. It is that one, if I were to become old tomorrow, that would make me regret life.

But what terrified him most of all was her insistence, from the very beginning of their relationship, on wanting a child by him. Scarcely three weeks after their first night together, he reproached her with this 'idée fixe' in an unpublished portion of a letter:[18)

You consider complacent!y, in the sublime egoism of your love, the hypothesis that a child might be born. You want it, admit it, you wish it as a link that would unite us more, like an inevitable contract that would rivet one to the other our two destinies. Oh! it must be because it is you, my dear and too tender friend, that I don't bear you a grudge for a desire so frightful  for my happiness.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Pierre Louÿs: La riviêre de la forêt

Charles Aimable Lenoir

 Je me suis baignée seule dans la rivière
 de la forêt.  Sans doute je faisais peur aux
 naïades car je les devinais à peine et de
 très loin, sous l'eau obscure.

 Je les ai appelées.  Pour leur ressembler
 tout à fait, j'ai tressé derrière ma nuque
 des iris noirs comme mes cheveux, avec des
 grappes de giroflées jaunes.

 D'une longue herbe flottante, je me suis
 fait une ceinture verte, et pour la voir je
 pressais mes seins en penchant un peu la

 Et j'appelais: « Naïades! naïades! jouez
 avec moi, soyez bonnes. »  Mais les naïades
 sont transparentes, et peut-être, sans le
 savoir, j'ai caressé leurs bras légers.

Pierre Louÿs,Les chansons de Bilitis (13)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Lennie Tristano: Deliberation

It's a question of market (Dostoyevsky)

On that 19th of September I took one other "step."
For the first time since I arrived I had money in my pocket, for the sixty roubles I had saved up in two years I had given to my mother, as I mentioned before. But, a few days before, I had determined that on the day I received my salary I would make an "experiment" of which I had long been dreaming. The day before I had cut out of the paper an address; it was an advertisement that on the 19th of September at twelve o'clock in the morning, in such- and-such a street, at number so-and-so, there would be a sale by the local police authority of the effects of Mme. Lebrecht, and that the catalogue, valuation, and property for sale could be inspected on the day of the auction, and so on.
It was just past one. I hurried to the address on foot. I had not taken a cab for more than two years—I had taken a vow not to (or I should never have saved up my sixty roubles). I had never been to an auction, I had never ALLOWED myself this indulgence. And though my present step was only an EXPERIMENT yet I had made up my mind not to take even that step till I had left the grammar school, when I should break off with everything, hide myself in my shell, and become perfectly free. It is true that I was far from being in my shell and far from being free yet, but then I was only taking this step by way of an experiment—simply to look into it, as it were to indulge a fancy, and after that not to recur to it perhaps for a long while, till the time of beginning seriously. For every one else this was only a stupid little auction, but for me it was the first plank in the ship in which a Columbus would set out to discover his America. That was my feeling then.
When I arrived I went into the furthest corner of the yard of the house mentioned in the advertisement, and entered Mme. Lebrecht's flat, which consisted of an entry and four small low-pitched rooms. In the first room there was a crowd of about thirty persons, half of them people who had come to bargain, while the rest, judging from their appearance, were either inquisitive outsiders, or connoisseurs, or representatives of Mme. Lebrecht. There were merchants and Jews gloating over the objects made of gold, and a few people of the well-dressed class. The very faces of some of these gentlemen remain stamped in my memory. In the doorway leading to the room on the right there was placed a table so that it was impossible to pass; on it lay the things catalogued for sale. There was another room on the left, but the door into it was closed, though it was continually being opened a little way, and some one could be seen peeping through the crack, no doubt some one of the numerous family of Mme. Lebrecht, who must have been feeling very much ashamed at the time. At the table between the doors, facing the public, sat the warrant officer, to judge by his badge, presiding over the sale. I found the auction half over; I squeezed my way up to the table as soon as I went in. Some bronze candlesticks were being sold. I began looking at the things.
I looked at the things and wondered what I could buy, and what I could do with bronze candlesticks, and whether my object would be attained, and how the thing would be done, and whether my project would be successful, and whether my project were not childish. All this I wondered as I waited. It was like the sensation one has at the gambling table at the moment before one has put down a card, though one has come to do so, feeling, "if I like I'll put it down, if I don't I'll go away—I'm free to choose!" One's heart does not begin to throb at that point, but there is a faint thrill and flutter in it—a sensation not without charm. But indecision soon begins to weigh painfully upon one: one's eyes grow dizzy, one stretches out one's hand, picks up a card, but mechanically, almost against one's will, as though some one else were directing one's hand. At last one has decided and thrown down the card—then the feeling is quite different—immense. I am not writing about the auction; I am writing about myself; who else would feel his heart throbbing at an auction?
Some were excited, some were waiting in silence, some had bought things and were regretting it. I felt no sympathy with a gentleman who, misunderstanding what was said, bought an electro-plated milk- jug in mistake for a silver one for five roubles instead of two; in fact it amused me very much. The warrant officer passed rapidly from one class of objects to another: after the candlesticks, displayed earrings, after earrings an embroidered leather cushion, then a money-box—probably for the sake of variety, or to meet the wishes of the purchasers. I could not remain passive even for ten minutes. I went up to the cushion, and afterwards to the cash-box, but at the critical moment my tongue failed me: these objects seemed to me quite out of the question. At last I saw an album in the warrant officer's hand.
"A family album in real morocco, second-hand, with sketches in water-colour and crayon, in a carved ivory case with silver clasps— priced two roubles!"
I went up: it looked an elegant article, but the carving was damaged in one place. I was the only person who went up to look at it, all were silent; there was no bidding for it. I might have undone the clasps and taken the album out of the case to look at it, but I did not make use of my privilege, and only waved a trembling hand as though to say "never mind."
"Two roubles, five kopecks," I said. I believe my teeth were chattering again.
The album was knocked down to me. I at once took out the money, paid for it, snatched up the album, and went into a corner of the room. There I took it out of its case, and began looking through it with feverish haste—it was the most trumpery thing possible—a little album of the size of a piece of notepaper, with rubbed gilt edges, exactly like the albums girls used to keep in former days when they left school. There were crayon and colour sketches of temples on mountain-sides, Cupids, a lake with floating swans; there were verses:
On a far journey I am starting, From Moscow I am departing, From my dear ones I am parting. And with post-horses flying South.
They are enshrined in my memory!
I made up my mind that I had made a mess of it; if there ever was anything no one could possibly want it was this.
"Never mind," I decided, "one's bound to lose the first card; it's a good omen, in fact."
I felt thoroughly light-hearted.
"Ach, I'm too late; is it yours? You have bought it?" I suddenly heard beside me the voice of a well-dressed, presentable-looking gentleman in a blue coat. He had come in late.
"I am too late. Ach, what a pity! How much was it?"
"Two roubles, five kopecks."
"Ach, what a pity! Would you give it up?"
"Come outside," I whispered to him, in a tremor.
We went out on the staircase.
"I'll let you have it for ten roubles," I said, feeling a shiver run down my back.
"Ten roubles! Upon my word!"
"As you like."
He stared at me open-eyed. I was well dressed, not in the least like a Jew or a second-hand dealer.
"Mercy on us—why it's a wretched old album, what use is it to anyone? The case isn't worth anything certainly. You certainly won't sell it to anyone."
"I see you will buy it."
"But that's for a special reason. I only found out yesterday. I'm the only one who would. Upon my word, what are you thinking about!"
"I ought to have asked twenty-five roubles, but as there was, after all, a risk you might draw back, I only asked for ten to make sure of it. I won't take a farthing less."
I turned and walked away.
"Well, take four roubles," he said, overtaking me in the yard, "come, five!"
I strode on without speaking.
"Well, take it then!"
He took out ten roubles. I gave him the album.
"But you must own it's not honest! Two roubles—and then ten, eh?"
"Why not honest? It's a question of market."
"What do you mean by market!" He grew angry.
"When there's a demand one has a market—if you hadn't asked for it I shouldn't have sold it for forty kopecks."
Though I was serious and didn't burst out laughing I was laughing inwardly—not from delight—I don't know why myself, I was almost breathless.
"Listen," I muttered, utterly unable to restrain myself, but speaking in a friendly way and feeling quite fond of him. "Listen, when as a young man the late James Rothschild, the Parisian one, who left seventeen hundred million francs (he nodded), heard of the murder of the Duc de Berri some hours before anybody else he sent the news to the proper quarter, and by that one stroke in an instant made several millions—that's how people get on!"
"So you're a Rothschild, are you?" he cried as though indignant with me for being such a fool.
I walked quickly out of the house. One step, and I had made seven roubles ninety-five kopecks. It was a senseless step, a piece of child's play I admit, but it chimed in with my theories, and I could not help being deeply stirred by it. But it is no good describing one's feelings. My ten roubles were in my waistcoat pocket, I thrust in two fingers to feel it—and walked along without taking my hand out. After walking a hundred yards along the street I took the note out to look at it, I looked at it and felt like kissing it. A carriage rumbled up to the steps of a house. The house porter opened the door and a lady came out to get into the carriage. She was young, handsome and wealthy-looking, gorgeously dressed in silk and velvet, with a train more than two yards long. Suddenly a pretty little portfolio dropped out of her hand and fell on the ground; she got into the carriage. The footman stooped down to pick the thing up, but I flew up quickly, picked it up and handed it to the lady, taking off my hat. (The hat was a silk one, I was suitably dressed for a young man.) With a very pleasant smile, though with an air of reserve, the lady said to me: "Merci, m'sieu!" The carriage rolled away. I kissed the ten-rouble note.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Things are looking well, looking grand with Axel now

"Didn't you get new teeth?" he asks. 
"Ay, so I did." 
"And are they aching, too?" 
"Ah, you with your nonsense!" says Barbro irritably, for all that Axel has asked innocently enough. And in her bitterness she lets out what is the matter. "You can see how 'tis with me, surely?" 
How 'twas with her? Axel looks closer, and fancies she is stouter than need be. 
"Why, you can't be--'tis surely not another child again?" says he.  "Why, you know it is," says she. 
Axel stares foolishly at her. Slow of thought as he is, he sits there counting for a bit: one week, two weeks, getting on the third week....
“Nay, how I should know...." says he. 
But Barbro is losing all patience with this debate, and bursts out, crying aloud, crying like a deeply injured creature: "Nay, you can take and bury me, too, in the ground, and then you'll be rid of me." 
Strange, what odd things a woman can find to cry for! 
Axel had never a thought of, burying her in the ground; he is a thick-skinned fellow, looking mainly to what is useful; a pathway carpeted with flowers is beyond his needs. 
"Then you'll not be fit to work in the fields this summer?" says he. 
"Not work?" says Barbro, all terrified again. And then--strange what odd things a woman can find to smile for! Axel, taking it that way, sent a flow of hysterical joy through Barbro, and she burst out: "I'll work for two! Oh, you wait and see, Axel; I'll do all you set me to, and more beyond. Wear myself to the bone, I will, and be thankful, if only you'll put up with me so!" 
More tears and smiles and tenderness after that. Only the two of them in the wilds, none to disturb them; open doors and a humming of flies in the summer heat. All so tender and willing was Barbro; ay, he might do as he pleased with her, and she was willing. 
After sunset he stands harnessing up to the mowing-machine; there's a bit he can still get done ready for tomorrow. Barbro comes hurrying out, as if she's something important, and says: 
"Axel, how ever could you think of getting one home from America? She couldn't get here before winter, and what use of her then?" And that was something had just come into her head, and she must come running out with it as if 'twas something needful. 
But 'twas no way needful; Axel had seen from the first that taking Barbro would mean getting help for all the year. No swaying and swinging with Axel, no thinking with his head among the stars. Now he's a woman of his own to look after the place, he can keep on the telegraph business for a bit. 'Tis a deal of money in the year, and good to reckon with as long as he's barely enough for his needs from the land, and little to sell. All sound and working well; all good reality. And little to fear from Brede about the telegraph line, seeing he's son-in-law to Brede now. 
Ay, things are looking well, looking grand with Axel now. 

 Knut Hamsun, Growth of the Soil  (1917) (translated by W. W. Worster)

Anna Karina - Jamais je ne t'ai dit que je t'aimerai toujours

Saturday, May 12, 2012

'Twas not as if they were strangers

Raining, and dirty underfoot, but Barbro tramps on. Evening is drawing on, but not dark yet at that season of the year. Poor Barbro--she does not spare herself, but goes on her errand like another; she is bound for a place, to commence another struggle there. She has never spared herself, to tell the truth, never been of a lazy sort, and that is why she has her neat figure now and pretty shape. Barbro is quick to learn things, and often to her own undoing; what else could one expect? She had learned to save herself at a pinch, to slip from one scrape to another, but keeping all along some better qualities; a child's death is nothing to her, but she can still give sweets to a child alive. Then she has a fine musical ear, can strum softly and correctly on a guitar, singing hoarsely the while; pleasant and slightly mournful to hear. Spared herself? no; so little, indeed, that she has thrown herself away altogether, and felt no loss. Now and again she cries, and breaks her heart over this or that in her life--but that is only natural, it goes with the songs she sings, 'tis the poetry and friendly sweetness in her; she had fooled herself and many another with the same. Had she been able to bring the guitar with her this evening she could have strummed a little for Axel when she came.  

She manages so as to arrive late in the evening; all is quiet at Maaneland when she reaches there. See, Axel has already begun haymaking, the grass is cut near the house, and some of the hay already in. And then she reckons out that Oline, being old, will be sleeping in the little room, and Axel lying out in the hayshed, just as she herself had done. She goes to the door she knows so well, breathless as a thief, and calls softly: "Axel!"  
"What's that?" asks Axel all at once.  
"Nay, 'tis only me," says Barbro, and steps in. "You couldn't house me for the night?" she says.  
Axel looks at her and is slow to think, and sits there in his underclothes, looking at her. "So 'tis you," says he. "And where'll you be going?"  
"Why, depends first of all if you've need of help to the summer work," says she.  
Axel thinks over that, and says: "Aren't you going to stay where you were, then?"   
"Nay; I've finished at the Lensmand's."  
"I might be needing help, true enough, for the summer," said Axel. "But what's it mean, anyway, you wanting to come back?"  
"Nay, never mind me," says Barbro, putting it off. "I'll go on again tomorrow. Go to Sellanraa and cross the hills. I've a place there."  
"You've fixed up with some one there?"  
"I might be needing summer help myself," says Axel again.  

Barbro is wet through; she has other clothes in her sack, and must change. "Don't mind about me," says Axel, and moves a bit toward the door, no more.  Barbro takes off her wet clothes, they talking the while, and Axel turning his head pretty often towards her. "Now you'd better go out just a bit," says she.  

"Out?" says he. And indeed 'twas no weather to go out in. He stands there, seeing her more and more stripped; 'tis hard to keep his eyes away; and Barbro is so thoughtless, she might well have put on dry things bit by bit as she took oft the wet, but no. Her shift is thin and clings to her; she unfastens a button at one shoulder, and turns aside, 'tis nothing new for her. Axel dead silent then, and he sees how she makes but a touch or two with her hands and washes the last of her clothes from her. 'Twas splendidly done, to his mind. And there she stands, so utterly thoughtless of her....  

A while after, they lay talking together. Ay, he had need of help for the summer, no doubt about that.  
"They said something that way," says Barbro.  

He had begun his mowing and haymaking all alone again; Barbro could judge for herself how awkward it was for him now.--Ay, Barbro understood.--On the other hand, it was Barbro herself that had run away and left him before, without a soul to help him, he can't forget that. And taken her rings with her into the bargain. And on top of all that, shameful as it was, the paper that kept on coming, that Bergen newspaper it seemed he would never get rid of; he had had to go on paying for it a whole year after.  
"'Twas shameful mean of them," says Barbro, taking his part all the time.  

But seeing her all submissive and gentle, Axel himself could not be altogether heartless towards her; he agreed that Barbro might have some reason to be angry with him in return for the way he had taken the telegraph business from her father. "But as for that," said he, "your father can have the telegraph business again for me; I'll have no more of it, 'tis but a waste of time."  
"Ay," says Barbro.  
Axel thought for a while, then asked straight out: "Well, what about it now, would you want to come for the summer and no more?"  
"Nay," says Barbro, "let it be as you please."  
"You mean that, and truly?"  
"Ay, just as you please, and I'll be pleased with the same. You've no call to doubt about me any more."  
"No, 'tis true. And I've ordered about the banns."  

H'm. This was not so bad. Axel lay thinking it over a long time. If she meant it in earnest this time, and not shameful deceit again, then he'd a woman of his own and help for as long as might be.  
"I could get a woman to come from our parts," said he, "and she's written saying she'd come. But then I'd have to pay her fare from America."  
Says Barbro: "Ho, she's in America, then?"  
"Ay. Went over last year she did, but doesn't care to stay."  
"Never mind about her," says Barbro. 
"And what'd become of me then?" says she, and begins to be soft and mournful.  
"No. That's why I've not fixed up all certain with her."  

And after that, Barbro must have something to show in return; she confessed about how she could have taken a lad in Bergen, and he was a carter in a big brewery, a mighty big concern, and a good position. "And he'll be sorrowing for me now, I doubt," says Barbro, and makes a little sob. "But you know how 'tis, Axel; when there's two been so much together as you and I, 'tis more than I could ever forget. And you can forget me as much as you please." "What! me?" says Axel. "Nay, no need to lie there crying for that, my girl, for I've never forgot you."  

Barbro feels a deal better after that confession, and says: "Anyway, paying her fare all the way from America when there's no need...." She advises him to have nothing to do with that business; 'twould be over costly, and there was no need. Barbro seemed resolved to build up his happiness herself.  

They came to agreement all round in the course of the night. 'Twas not as if they were strangers; they had talked over everything before. Even the necessary marriage ceremony was to take place before St. Olaf's Day and harvest; they had no need to hide things, and Barbro was now herself most eager to get it done at once. Axel was not any put out at her eagerness, and it did not make him any way suspicious; far from it, he was flattered and encouraged to find her so. Ay, he was a worker in the fields, no doubt, a thick-skinned fellow, not used to looking over fine at things, nothing delicate beyond measure; there were things he was obliged to do, and he looked to what was useful first of all. Moreover, here was Barbro all new and pretty again, and nice to him, almost sweeter than before. Like an apple she was, and he bit at it. The banns were already put up.

Knut Hamsun, Growth of the Soil  (1917) (translated by W. W. Worster)

Celle que j’aimais

Ma bien-aimée. Pendant quelques
secondes sa tête a reposé sur mon
épaule. Elle m’a regardé. Dans ses
yeux j’ai vu la tendresse ancienne,
je ne m’en souvenais plus. Je n’ai pas
osé  lui demander si elle m’aimait.
Je le savais, non? Mais qu’est-ce que
nous savons, nous, à qui le rêve
souvent se fait passer pour la
réalité? Nous n’avons pas parlé
d’amour. Ce n’était  pas possible,
de toute façon. Je me disais : il faut
attendre pour savoir ;  elle m’aimera
peut-être un jour et elle me le dira. Je
ne  crois pas aux miracles. L’amour
m’a  souvent  joué de mauvais tours.  

L’heure avait passé, je l’ai laissé partir.
Plus tard la nuit est tombée, mais je ne
pouvais pas dormir. La pensée de mon
amour me remplissait de joie. Mais la
peur m’envahissait aussi. Je me suis
entendu murmurer : je perds le sens
de la réalité, je deviens fou et ne peut
plus distinguer ce qui est de ce que
mon imagination délirante me fait
croire. Les jours se succédaient.
J’étais décidé à être sévère avec
moi-même. Je me disais : ça ne
peut pas continuer comme ça.
J’attendais cependant avec
impatience de la revoir, son
absence me rendait malheureux,
me laissait à l’abandon dans la
ville déserte. Je n’avais plus
personne à qui parler. Et je
lui parlais incessamment dans
mon esprit détraqué. Elle est
devenue celle qui pouvait tout
écouter, tout comprendre. Et 
tout ce qui en moi était jusqu’alors 
resté silencieux s’était mis à
parler. Je ne pouvais pas
mettre fin au délire. J’essayais
de dormir et je n’y arrivais pas.

Ma bien aimée. Celle que
j’aimais d’une tendresse
inconnue. Elle était la femme
et elle était l’enfant. Elle était
la vie. Je la perdrais pourtant
sans jamais l’avoir eue, sans avoir
caressé ses yeux, sans connaître
la douceur de ses lèvres. L’amour,
encore une fois, allait se moquer
de moi. Il m’avait laissé entrevoir
son visage, deviner la tendresse qui
habitait son cœur solitaire, mais tout
n’était, je commençais à le deviner,
qu’une invention déraisonnée de mon
esprit assoiffé de vie, d’amour.

Mozart Cosi Fan Tutte Act 1 Finale Part 2

Friday, May 11, 2012

Paul Celan: In memoriam Paul Éluard

Lay those words into the dead man's grave
which he spoke in order to live.
Pillow his head amid them,
let him feel
the tongues of longing,
the tongs.

Lay that word on the dead man's eyelids
which he refused to him
who addressed him as thou,
the word
his leaping heart-blood passed by
when a hand as bare as his own
knotted him who addressed him as thou
into the trees of the future.

Lay this word on his eyelids:
his eye, still blue, will assume
a second, more alien blueness,
and he who addressed him as thou
will dream with him: We.

(Poems of Paul Celan, Persea Books, New York, 
translated by Michael Hamburger)

Hamsun: Getting rid of Barbro

It was an open quarrel between them this time. But even that died away after a time, and all was well again. That is to say, not well exactly--no, but passable. Barbro was careful and more submissive; she knew there was danger. But that way, life at Maaneland grew even more forced and intolerable--no frankness, no joy between them, always on guard. It could not last long, but as long as it lasted at all, Axel was forced to be content. He had got this girl on the place, and had wanted her for himself and had her, tied his life to her; it was not an easy matter to alter all that. Barbro knew everything about the place: where pots and vessels stood, when cows and goats were to bear, if the winter feed would be short or plenty, how much milk was for cheese and how much for food--a stranger would know nothing of it all, and even so, a stranger was perhaps not to be had.  

Oh, but Axel had thought many a time of getting rid of Barbro and taking another girl to help; she was a wicked thing at times, and he was almost afraid of her. Even when he had the misfortune to get on well with her he drew back at times in fear of her strange cruelty and brutal ways; but she was pretty to look at, and could be sweet at times, and bury him deep in her arms. So it had been--but that was over now. No, thank you--Barbro was not going to have all that miserable business over again. But it was not so easy to change.... "Let's get married at once, then," said Axel, urging her.  "At once?" said she. "Nay; I must go into town first about my teeth, they're all but gone as it is."  So there was nothing to do but go on as before. And Barbro had no real wages now, but far beyond what her wages would have been; and every time she asked for money and he gave it, she thanked him as for a gift. But for all that Axel could not make out where the money went--what could she want money for out in the wilds? Was she hoarding for herself? But what on earth was there to save and save for, all the year round?  

There was much that Axel could not make out. Hadn't he given her a ring--ay, a real gold ring? And they had got on well together, too, after that last gift; but it could not last for ever, far from it; and he could not go on buying rings to give her. In a word--did she mean to throw him over? Women were strange creatures! Was there a man with a good farm and a well-stocked place of his own waiting for her somewhere else? Axel could at times go so far as to strike his fist on the table in his impatience with women and their foolish humours.  A strange thing, Barbro seemed to have nothing really in her head but the thought of Bergen and town life. Well and good. But if so, why had she come back at all, confound her! A telegram from her father would never have moved her a step in itself; she must have had some other reason. And now here she was, eternally discontented from morning to night, year after year. All these wooden buckets, instead of proper iron pails; cooking-pots instead of saucepans; the everlasting milking instead of a little walk round to the dairy; heavy boots, yellow soap, a pillow stuffed with hay; no military bands, no people. Living like this....

Knut Hamsun, Growth of the Soil  (1917) (translated by W. W. Worster)

Rilke: The Third Elegy


To sing the beloved is one thing, another, oh,
that hidden guilty river-god of the blood.
What does he know, himself, of that lord of desire, her young lover,
whom she knows distantly, who often out of his solitariness,
before the girl soothed him, often, as if she did not exist,
held up, dripping, from what unknowable depths,
his godhead, oh, rousing the night to endless uproar?
O Neptune of the blood, O his trident of terrors.
O the dark storm-wind from his chest, out of the twisted conch.
Hear, how the night becomes thinned-out and hollow. You, stars,
is it not from you that the lover’s joy in the beloved’s
face rises? Does he not gain his innermost insight,
into her face’s purity, from the pure stars?

It was not you, alas, not his mother
that bent the arc of his brow into such expectation.
Not for you, girl, feeling his presence, not for you,
did his lips curve into a more fruitful expression.
Do you truly think that your light entrance
rocked him so, you who wander like winds at dawn?
You terrified his heart, that’s so: but more ancient terrors
plunged into him with the impetus of touching.
Call can’t quite call him away from that dark companion.
Of course he wants to, and does, escape: relieved, winning
his way into your secret heart, and takes on, and begins himself.
Did he ever begin himself, though?
Mother you made his littleness: you were the one who began him:
to you he was new, you hung the friendly world
over new eyes, and defended him from what was strange.
Oh where are the years when you simply repelled
the surging void for him, with your slight form?
You hid so much from him then: you made the suspect room
harmless at night, from your heart filled with refuge
mixed a more human space with his spaces of night.
Not in the darkness, no, in your nearer being
you placed the light, and it shone as if out of friendship.
There wasn’t a single creaking you couldn’t explain with a smile,
as if you had long known when the floor would do so....
And he heard you and was soothed. Your being
was so tenderly potent: his fate there stepped,
tall and cloaked, behind the wardrobe, and his restless future,
so easily delayed, fitted the folds of the curtain.

And he himself, as he lay there, relieved,
dissolving a sweetness, of your gentle creation,
under his sleepy eyelids, into the sleep he had tasted - :
seemed protected.....But inside: who could hinder,
prevent, the primal flood inside him?
Ah, there was little caution in the sleeper: sleeping,
but dreaming, but fevered: what began there!
How, new, fearful, he was tangled
in ever-spreading tendrils of inner event:
already twisted in patterns, in strangling growths,
among prowling bestial forms. How he gave himself to it -.  Loved.
Loved his inward world, his inner wilderness,
that first world within, on whose mute overthrow
his heart stood, newly green. Loved. Relinquished it, went on,
through his own roots, to the vast fountain
where his little birth was already outlived. Lovingly
went down into more ancient bloodstreams, into ravines
where Horror lay, still gorged on his forefathers. And every
Terror knew him, winked, like an informant.
Yes, Dread smiled.........Seldom
have you smiled so tenderly, mothers. How could he
help loving what smiled at him. Before you
he loved it, since, while you carried him,
it was dissolved in the waters, that render the embryo light.

See, we don’t love like flowers, in a
single year: when we love, an ancient
sap rises in our arms. O, girls,
this: that we loved inside us, not one to come, but
the immeasurable seething: not a single child,
but the fathers: resting on our depths
like the rubble of mountains: the dry river-beds
of those who were mothers - : the whole
silent landscape under a clouded or
clear destiny - : girls, this came before you.

And you yourself, how could you know – that you
stirred up primordial time in your lover. What feelings
welled up from lost lives. What
women hated you there. What sinister men
you roused up in his young veins. Dead
children wanted you.....O, gently, gently,
show him with love a confident daily task - lead him
near to the Garden, give him what outweighs
those nights........
                        Be in him...............

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Jaroslav Seifert: The Hunt for the Kingfisher

Edouard-Leon Cortès

How many times has a verse come to my mind 
even at a crossroads 
while the lights were at red! 
Why not? 
You can even fall in love 
in that short a time. 

But before I'd walked across 
to the far side 
I'd forgotten the verses. 
I was still able 
to jot them down off-hand. 
But the smile 
of the girl who crossed over in front of me 
I remember to this day. 

Under the railway bridge at Kralupy 
I often as a boy would climb 
into the branches of a hollow willow 
and among the twigs above the river 
think and dream of my first verses. 

But, to be honest, I also 
would think and dream 
of lovemaking and women 
and watch the torn-off reeds 
float on the water. 

Easter was around the corner, 
the air was full of vernal magic. 
I even saw a kingfisher once 
on a whipping twig. 
In all my life 
I never saw another 
and yet my eyes have often longed 
for a closer view of that delicate beauty. 

Even the river had a pungent fragrance then, 
that bittersweet fragrance, 
the fragrance of women's loosened hair 
when from their shoulders it overflows 
their naked bodies. 

And when, years later, I immersed 
my face into that hair 
and opened my eyes, 
I gazed through those sunlit depths 
to the roots of love. 

There are rare moments in my life 
when I find myself once more 
under the railway bridge at Kralupy. 
Everything there is as it used to be, 
even that willow — 
but I am just imagining it all. 

Easter is once more round the corner, 
the air is full of vernal magic 
and the river is fragrant. 

For every day under my window 
the birds go mad quite early in the morning 
and, singing as if their lives depended on it, 
they drown each other's voices, 
and those sweet dreams 
which usually come at dawn 
are gone. 

But that's the only thing 
I can hold against the spring. 

(The poetry of Jaroslav Seifert, Catbird Press, 
«a garrigue book», translated from the Czech 
by Ewald Osers, p. 208) 

Django Reinhardt: I wonder where is my baby tonight


My life was so boring that I started to think about falling in love with a girl that could not love me just for the pleasure of the pain.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The persistence of modernity

“Consequently I shall argue that postmodernism at its best might be seen as a self-critical – a skeptical, ironic, but nevertheless unrelenting – form of modernism; a modernism beyond utopianism, scientism and foundationalism; in short, a postmetaphisical modernism. A modernism beyond metaphysics would be a new ‘Gestalt’ of modernity; perhaps we are witnessing the emergence of such a ‘Gestalt’. A postmetaphysical modernity would be a modernity without the dream of ultimate reconciliation, but it would still preserve the rational, subversive and experimental spirit of modern democracy, modern art, modern science and modern individualism. In its moral and intellectual substance it would be the heir and not the end of the great tradition of European Enlightment.”

Albrecht Wellmer, The Persistence of Modernity, Essays on Aesthetics, Ethics, and Postmodernism. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1991, translated by David Midgley

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

About you

Gustave Jean Jacquet

How much of your love would
you give me, if I asked?
But I will not put you under
pressure. I will sometimes
at the end of the day believe
that you too are a passenger
in the boat sailing to the faraway
island. From the distance I
will look at you and secretly
dream of the days to come where
you, in my arms, will ask me
if I love you as much as
you love me. And drinking
slowly at the table in the
bar I will rejoice and let
my eyes float at the surface
of the restless sea waters.

Katherine Mansfield: The Gulf

A Gulf of silence separates us from each other.
I stand at one side of the gulf, you at the other.
I cannot see you or hear you, yet know that you are there.
Often I call you by your childish name
And pretend that the echo to my crying is your voice.
How can we bridge the gulf? Never by speech or touch.
Once I thought we might fill it quite up with tears.
Now I want to shatter it with our laughter.