Others

MadTree

Last week I drafted a short piece in my notebook about other people, namely my aversion to them. Today I read a passage in Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet that puts my piece to shame. This from Pessoa:

Isolation made me in its own image. The presence of another person — one person is all it takes — immediately slows down my thinking … When I am alone, I can come up with endless bon mots, acerbic ripostes to remarks no one has made, sociable flashes of wit exchanged with no one; but all this disappears when I’m confronted by another human being. I lose all my intelligence, I lose the power of speech, and after a while all I feel like doing is sleeping. Yes, talking to people makes me feel like sleeping. Only my spectral and imagined friends, only the conversations I have in dreams, have reality and substance, and in them the spirit is present like an image in a mirror.

The whole idea of being forced into contact with someone oppresses me. A simple invitation to supper from a friend produces in me an anguish difficult to put into words. The idea of any social obligation — going to a funeral, discussing something with someone at the office, going to meet someone (whether known or unknown) at the station — the mere idea blocks that whole day’s thoughts and sometimes I even worry about it the night before and sleep badly because of it. Yet the reality, when it comes, is utterly insignificant, and certainly doesn’t justify so much fuss, yet it happens again and again and I never learn.

‘My habits are those of solitude, not men.’ I don’t know if it was Rousseau or Senancour who said that, but it was some spirit belonging to the same species as me.

Churchill on landlords

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Roads are made, streets are made, services are improved, electric light turns night into day, water is brought from reservoirs a hundred miles off in the mountains — all the while the landlord sits still. Every one of those improvements is affected by the labor and cost of other people and the taxpayers. To not one of these improvements does the land monopolist contribute, and yet, by every one of them the value of his land is enhanced. He renders no service to the community, he contributes nothing to the general welfare, he contributes nothing to the process from which his own enrichment is derived…The unearned increment on the land is reaped by the land monopolist in exact proportion, not to the service, but to the disservice done.

— Winston Churchill, 1909

Another memory in algorithm

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I remember the smell of him alive
sweat and cologne
hair and a day’s work
in other words, the opposite of death.
I remember the smell of death
that overtook him
sour and aggressive — singular
devouring him inside-out.
Both scents linger
memories enforce them, time fades them
years accumulate
as do fragrances
but the dead are still dead — shadows
the living are measured against them.

Neruda’s The great urinator

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Pablo Neruda, From Selected Failings (Defectos Escogidos) 1972-1973

The Great Urinator (El Gran Orinador)

The great urinator was yellow

and the stream that came down

was bronze-colored rain

on the domes of churches,

on the roofs of cars,

on factories and cemeteries,

on the populace and their gardens.

 

Who was it, where was it?

 

It was a density, thick liquid

falling as from

a horse, and frightened passersby

with no umbrellas

looked up skyward,

meanwhile avenues were flooding

and urine inexhaustibly flowing

underneath doors,

backing up drains, disintegrating

marble floors, carpets,

staircases.

 

Nothing could be detected. Where

was this peril?

 

What was going to happen to the world?

 

From on high the great urinator

was silent and urinated.

 

What does this signify?

 

I am a pale and artless poet

not here to work out riddles

or recommend special umbrellas.

 

Hasta la vista! I greet you and go off

to a country where they won’t ask me questions.

 

Montaigne on introspection

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If no one reads me,

have I wasted my time, entertaining myself for so many idle hours with such useful and agreeable thoughts? … I have no more made my book than my book has made me — a book consubstantial with its author …

Have I wasted my time by taking stock of myself so continually, so carefully? For those who go over themselves only in their minds and occasionally in speech do not penetrate to essentials in their examination as does a man who makes that his study, his work, and his trade, who binds himself to keep an enduring account, with all his faith, with all his strength.

Indeed, the most delightful pleasures are digested inwardly, avoid leaving any traces, and avoid the sight not only of the public but of any other person.

— Michel de Montaigne

Muñoz Molina on the novel

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The novel subjects itself to its own limits and at the same time opens itself up to an exploration of depths that are within and without (the writer) and that only (the writer) was meant to discover. You’re writing even when you don’t write. Narrative imagination does not feed on what is invented; It feeds on the past. Every minor or trivial event that one experiences or discovers in the course of an investigation can be valuable or even decisive for the novel, occupying a minimal but precise place within it, like an uneven cobblestone …

… The novel has developed on its own with the unlimited richness of reality and the blank spaces I haven’t been tempted to fill, spaces in the shadows that cannot be illuminated …

…The novel is what I write and also the room where I work. The novel is the fine-point pen that ran out of ink one day when I wrote for five or six hours without stopping and filled an entire notebook. The novel is made with everything I know and everything I don’t know, and with the sensation of groping my way through this story but never finding a precise narrative outline.

— Antonio Muñoz Molina, Like a Fading Shadow. Translated by Camilo A. Ramirez. Published by Editorial Planeta, S.A., 2014. Translation copyright 2017 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York.