“a river of sperm… it’s shifting course…and heading west”—more from raspail’s the camp of the saints

 

Eleven

On that day and the days that followed, in all the ports along the Ganges, a hundred ships were stormed in the very same way, and not without a certain collusion by captains and crews. The turd eater had only to appear before the crowd and speak. On more than one occasion, local police had reported him standing on the bridges of two ships at once, which would tend to prove that even they were the victims of mob hysteria. To tell the truth, the human tide had swept this frenzied city clean of every vestige of authority. When one crack regiment, in fact, was ordered to shut off all roads to the port, the soldiers replied by throwing their rifles into the Ganges, and lost themselves deep in the crowd. The government wouldn’t have risked even that token gesture if not for the pressure that all the Western consuls had brought to bear. Soon afterwards, the ministers holed themselves up, way out in their villas, and every department chief seemed to vanish from sight. All but one, that is, the head of Information, whom the Belgian consul, dean of the corps, managed to reach by telephone, one last time, before he too disappeared. That high official, a man of taste and breeding, seemed strangely composed, as if this assault on the Western World were as normal a thing as could be:

“Look here, my friend. Why cling to the hope that my government still has some say in all this? What’s happening out on those docks is the fringe of the problem, the part we can see. Like the lava that shoots up out of the crater. Or the wave that breaks on the beach … Yes, that’s what it is, a wave, with another one rolling behind it, and one behind that, and another, and another. And so on, out to sea, back to the storm that’s the cause of it all. This mob of poor devils attacking the ships is just the first wave. You’ve seen their kind before. Their misery is nothing new, it doesn’t upset you. But what about the second wave, the one right behind? Would it shock you to learn that thousands more are on the move? Half the country, in fact. Young ones, handsome ones, the ones that haven’t even begun to starve … The second wave, my friend. The beautiful creatures. God’s perfect specimens, these people of ours. Like statues, in all their naked glory, out of our temples and onto the road, streaming toward the port. Yes, ugliness bowing to beauty at last … And behind them, the third wave, fear. And the fourth wave, famine. Two months, my friend, and five million dead already! … Then the wave we call flood, stripping the country, destroying the crops, laying waste the land for five long years. And another one, off in the distance, the wave of war. More famine in its wake, more millions dead. And another, still nearer the storm, the wave of shame. The shame of those days when the West was master of our land … But through it all, through wave after wave, these people of ours, rubbing bellies for all they’re worth, to their bodies’ and souls’ content, to bring more millions into the world to die … Yes, that’s where it all begins. That’s the eye of the storm, no matter how it’s hidden. And you know, it’s really not a storm at all, but a great, triumphant surge of life. … There’s no Third World. No, not anymore. That’s only a phrase you coined to keep us in our place. There’s one world, only one, and it’s going to be flooded with life, submerged. This country of mine is a roaring river. A river of sperm. Now, all of a sudden, it’s shifting course, my friend, and heading west …”

As he held the phone, the Consul’s hand was so close to his nose that he gave it a quick, unthinking sniff. And he thought of those many times—press conferences, cocktails, and such—when this same official would shake his hand and steep his palm and fingers in a heavy scent, so stubborn that it took three days and twenty scrubbings with a good strong soap to wash it out. “The stink of the East!” the Consul would murmur to himself as he rubbed his hands under the tap. And he used to wonder if, just at that moment, his counterpart too wasn’t washing his hands for the twentieth time, and thinking, “Good God, the stink of the West!”

“May I ask you something, my friend?” the Consul interjected. “What kind of cologne do you use?”

The official let out a surprised little gasp. Then something of a laugh, as if he had caught the meaning behind the question. And he had, in fact, subtle mind that he was.

“Do you really think that’s a burning issue at a time like this, my friend?”

“Frankly,” the Consul laughed back, “at the moment I can’t think of any more burning.”

“In that case, I’ll tell you. I never use cologne. None at all … And you, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“I don’t either. None at all.”

“I thought as much.”

“I thought so too,” the Consul replied.

Their laughter subsided. For a moment there was silence. Then the Consul continued:

“Well now, there’s a good solid fact I can wire my government. Uncoded, of course! It should satisfy their frantic need to know what’s going on here, and why. Aside from that, though, there’s not too much point to our chat, I’m afraid. Not that I really expected there would be. As always, you’ve tried to explain away that congenital habit you people have of closing your eyes … Oh, you’re a bright, clever man, I’m sure. Your whole country is bursting with bright, clever men. Men who knew what was going to happen. Your nice little speech laid it all out pat: the famines, wars, floods, epidemics, the mighty myths and superstitions, the population growing by leaps and bounds … No need for a computer to predict the future here—though you people do have computers, I’m sure. … Oh no, you knew! You saw all those waves that you described so well. You knew they were coming! And what did you do? Not a thing!”

“Now, now, you’re just being nasty!” the official interrupted. “But I don’t mind, I understand. You’re getting a taste of fear, that’s all. Yes, fear—you bright, clever man! Well, five minutes more and I’ll hang up the phone, and that will be that. Then you can go shift for yourself, my friend, with your precious Western future behind you. Nobody here will give a good goddamn—myself, anymore than our outcast scum! And I’ll thumb my nose good-bye, if you want to know, even though I can’t see you. If my government still cared, that’s one thing I’d be sure to tell them. It would be the neatest way to wrap up the whole affair. … You say we didn’t do a thing? And what about you? God knows, we begged you for help, but that wasn’t enough! You wanted to see us fall at your feet, you wanted to make us grovel. Besides, you couldn’t have stopped it. The world had plenty of warning. … Your part of the world, that is. The only part that mattered … All those times, wherever they had me stationed—London, Paris—those times I’d be sitting over a drink with friends, and have to watch your television screens and see my own people dying! Or open your high-class papers and read the reporters who knew what was going on, but didn’t let it spoil their dinner or keep them up at night. With headlines like: ‘Affluent Nations’ Conscience Unmoved by Third World Plight … Western and UN Aid Falling Far Short … Future of Third World Seen at Stake …’ You people all know how to read. You’re not deaf. You’ve heard the same tune for ten years now, in every key. But only from all your bleeding hearts, and plenty of them at that. So what did you do? You treated your conscience to a dose of guilt and then prayed to someone or other that things would stay the way they were as long as they could. That’s where you went wrong. You should have held fast to your Western contempt. It might have steeled you against disaster. Because that’s what’s brewing for you now, my friend, and you can’t do a thing about it. When all is said and done, it will serve you right, and no one will stand up and fight it. Not even your own. Which just goes to show what a decadent lot you really are.”

“My conscience is clear,” the Consul replied. “No guilt, I assure you. And no contempt either. I won’t deny a few pangs of fear, but fear is the only emotion this country of yours has ever made me feel. That’s why I’m going to rout it out by doing my duty, pure and simple. Will I see you at the docks?”

“My good man, you must be joking …”

It wasn’t a joking matter, but the conversation did break off, in fact, with a kind of laugh. From that moment on, until the fleet was about to set sail, every last official from around the Ganges seemed to dissolve and disappear in silence.

Twelve

Later, when the world learned that the fleet had sailed, and heard the circumstances surrounding the Consul’s death, not a single voice was raised to explain or defend his action. People talked about “Consul Himmans and his foolish heroics,” but without the slightest concern for the little man trampled by the mob until he was nothing but a puddle of blood on the Ganges shore. The word “pathetic,” which would have been far more fitting, never even so much as rose to the lips of the antiracists out beating the drum. Yes, the fleet was pathetic. The passengers were pathetic. But the Consul was foolish. One journalist, and only one, came close to the truth, and then on a sadly humorous note. His article was entitled: “Last Popgun Blast from a Dying Regime.” It reviewed the major times that the West had sent its armies meddling in the lives of once-second-class nations, and traced its progressively weakening role down to that single symbolic shot from the Consul’s rifle, fired in the name of a superiority that was no more.

In its outward appearance, at least, the Consul’s heroic gesture was something of a prototype after the fact; an epitome, synthesis, conclusion all in one, as perfect and pure as the final creation of some terribly famous artist, who paints a single line on his canvas, or dabs one dot, and calls it his crowning achievement. The Consul, poor man, didn’t know what a pose he had struck. He had looked for no models to follow. He had felt no epic grandeur in his soul, no taste for theatrics. And yet, his death was theater at its best. His army, for example, reduced to a single soldier—the faithful Sikh—was one of those comic theatrical symbols, the shabby, half-starved actor loping across the stage and awkwardly showing a sign with the words: “His Excellency the Western Consul’s Troops.” Worth noting, too, was the fact that the army in question respected the age-old tradition that, over the years, had cemented the power and might of the West beyond its borders: it was a native army, conditioned to abhor its own the way the white man’s dog abhors the black’s. More noteworthy still, the fact that this army—venal to the core, hired out to maintain the Western hold on a worldwide domain—was reduced to a single man. And so, with one soldier behind him, the Consul stepped forward, a wizened figure in his English shorts, his half-sleeve shirt flapping over a gaunt, gray chest, to confront a million flailing savages. Not that there really was, to be sure, in that crowd as we know it, a single wildly flailing savage, but simply because in all the glorious tales of Western conquerors—from Cortés and Pizarro to our own Bournazel and his African exploits—the white man is pictured alone (or almost), advancing against the unbridled, menacing hordes, and putting them all to flight by his imposing presence. The charm, however, had long since been broken. The poor little Consul looked rather like a tired old magician, who knows that he’s going to bungle his trick, and does, but who tries it on the audience all the same, not for his honor or anything of the sort, but because even a worn-out magician deserves an orderly end, however absurd, just as a worn-out hero of the Western World deserves to perform one last bizarre, eccentric feat for the public that used to applaud him. Once admiration gives way to disdain, the bizarre, after all, is the only way out that makes much sense. And why not? Weren’t jesters always cleverer than their kings? So be it. In this new swarthy reign, the white man will be the jester. It’s as simple as that …

High noon, and there by the docks the little Western Consul appeared, at the head of his army. To say that the army’s morale was low would be rather an understatement; it was catastrophic. The army was in utter disarray. Its antique rifle trembled in time with its panic. But careful to refrain from introspection, and strutting, puppet like, close behind its cadaverous, knobby-kneed commander, it still caused enough of a stir—with its Belgian drill step, English style, head high and vacant stare (“Whatever you do, never look at a thing!”)—that it made the crowd give way and let them through. The mob was sizzling in the noonday sun, and the Consul sniffed. Then he took a big white kerchief from his pocket and tied it around his nose and mouth, like Marshal Bugeaud and his desert legionnaires. No doubt this act of instinctiverevulsion, quite unintended, struck those up front as openly hostile. It was in that spirit that they described it to the ones behind them, who passed it down the line, and into the heart of the crowd. In no time a murderous cry had gone up. The army tightened ranks. That is to say, the Sikh guard tightened his rump, and felt a cold sweat trickling down his thighs, as his gun barrel trembled madly against a sky turned black with shaking fists. The Consul struggled to push his way through the mass of flesh, growing denser and denser, and managed to reach the pier. A big ship sat at her moorings, almost as high as the India Star. Three gangplanks connected her to land. Three teeming human anthills on the move. At the foot of one, with his back to the crowd and his face toward the sea, stood a mournful-looking white man, arms upraised.

“What are you doing here?” the Consul asked the bishop. “Do you think it’s time for us relics to die? … On different sides, of course! …”

The bishop smiled and completed his blessing.

“You remind me of Christ,” the Consul went on, “but a dead Christ at that. I’ve lost my job, but I’m willing to admit it. That’s where we’re different, you and I. You want to keep fooling yourself in the name of some meaningless God. A God that’s in your head, and nowhere else … Well, take a good look at the rabble around us, then draw your own conclusions. You’re nothing to them. Just a broken-down padre spreading a useless gospel. Whereas I … Well, at least for a moment they’ll know I exist, and sooner than they think! … No, Your Grace, I’m afraid you’re all alone. They don’t have the vaguest idea what you’re up to. But you go ahead and bless them all the same. That was what I saw you doing, wasn’t it? You were actually giving that mob your blessing …”

“Quite so,” said the bishop. “As prefect apostolic to the entire Ganges region, I’m wishing my flock a bon voyage, and praying for God’s help to speed them on their way.”

“What meaningless mumbo jumbo!” the Consul replied. “Bishop or not, you’re still a simple priest at heart! Time was when bishops were born, not made, and priests were just priests. Now nobody draws any lines anymore, and it’s all mixed up. … Really, who do you think will fall for such talk? A bishop for this Ganges scum! That’s just what they needed! And you think God will bother to help the likes of them? Maybe yours, but not mine. I’m damn sure of that!”

The Sikh had turned a deathly green, twitching and squirming about, convulsed with fear. He looked toward the two men having their calm salon chat in the midst of the crowd, then pivoted around in a flash, like a tank’s revolving turret in a slapstick film, his gun barrel grazing the wall of faces huddling thick about them. Then, completing his turn, he faced the Consul again, like a dervish whirling in a circle of fear, hoping that the next time around his master would finally listen:

“Consul Sahib! Please, let’s go! They’re not afraid of me anymore. They’re almost on top of us. A few seconds, and they won’t be afraid of you either. Then we’ll never get out of here alive! Please, Consul Sahib! I’ve served your country all these years. Now save me! Please, for Heaven’s sake, save me!”

“Is your rifle loaded?”

“No, Consul Sahib. What good would it do?”

“Well then, load it, you idiot!”

Shame on the Sikh guards, glory and pride of empires past! After four fruitless tries, the order was carried out, finally, by a warrior fallen from grace, beard and turban atremble, who looked like a drunkard struggling to find the keyhole with his key. It was then that the bishop replied to the Consul’s remarks:

“God won’t help them, you say? … Well, listen. He’s doing just that! Impossible, but true. See? They’re on their way!”

The whistle on the India Star gave out such a mournful wail that it would have brought a shudder to even the most mildly superstitious of captains. It was like the orgasmic groaning of some deaf-mute colossus, some giant in heat, unaware of the frenzy of sounds he was forcing from his throat. First a few short blasts, some high, some low. Then all of them blending into one immense gasp, each note of the scale scraping against the next without snuffing it out. The great organ pipe of the India Star, rusted through here and there in holes of various sizes, booming out the chant of its last divine office. After which, it proceeded to burst, just as the monster totem, up on the bridge, was closing his toothless mouth … The Calcutta Star sat at dockside—decayed, once-shining symbol of a decaying city. Her captain had draped himself in a kind of pilgrim cloak, but still had on his braided cap. He looked for all the world like a glove puppet, standing there on board, arms waving at the sailors hauling up the gangplanks. Two of them were up already. The Western Consul and his army had taken their positions at the foot of the third. At the top, a small patch of empty deck appeared to the waiting hordes on the pier quite able to hold them all. And so they began to edge forward, slowly at first, in a single, solid mass, like some gigantic beast with a million legs and a hundred heads, the closest of which was a handsome young man’s, the picture of sublime inspiration, whose face seemed consumed by a pair of shining eyes, and who found himself suddenly barrel to brow with the Western artillery, such as it was.

“Fire!” the Consul ordered.

He had never used that word before in similar context, and it startled him a little to hear himself utter it now for the very first time. It was then, on the threshold of death, that the poor little man discovered the joy of personal contact with soldierly lore. … Fire! One more colony falls at your feet, Sir! Fire! Tahiti surrenders, run up the colors! Fire! The Sultan of Patakahuet implores the Republic’s protection! Fire! Fire! Fire! The Arab rebel bastards bite the dust of the desert stockades. … We’re a great and generous people, after all, but still … So ready, aim, fire! …

The Consul emerged from his daydream, jarred awake as the army drew back without a shot.

“What are you waiting for? Fire, you idiot!”

At which point the army deserted. It did so in the disarray of utter defeat, in its usual cowardly manner. Will God ever show us a conquering army turn tail and desert? No doubt, especially if the shabby lot that pretend to speak in His name ever get their way. … The Sikh thrust his rifle into the Consul’s hands, and dove into the Ganges.

“You’re not really going to shoot!” said the bishop.

“Oh yes I am! And I’m going to shoot to kill,” said the Consul, leveling his gun at the doe-eyed multi-beast before him.

“But what on earth for?”

The Consul was staring right into the eyes of the handsome, dark young man at the end of his rifle. The crowd paused a moment before the final push.

“What do you want me to say?” the Consul answered. “For glory? Honor? Some principle or other? For Christian civilization, or nonsense like that? Well, not at all! I’m going to turn off those bright, shining eyes just for the pleasure it gives me! I have no brothers in this mob of Martians. They’re nothing to me. And now, finally, I’m going to prove it!”

He fired. One of the beast’s hundred heads disappeared, a bloody hole between its eyes. But it grew right back in the shape of a square, black face, with massive jaws and a hate-filled look. The Consul was thrown to the ground in a frenzy of blows. The bishop bent over his scrawny, prostrate form.

“In the name of the Lord, I forgive you,” he said.

“In the name of the Lord, eat shit!” the Consul gasped.

Then the hundred heads plunged forward, as the surging beast, compressed within the confines of the gangplank, climbed on its thousands of legs to the deck of the Calcutta Star. Swept along in the tide, absorbed and digested, the bishop found himself lifted aboard and dropped down in place by the great human wave, alive but inert, like a shipwrecked sailor who, by some miracle, washes ashore on the sands of an unknown island. In that crushing welter of flesh, however, that horde exuding its mystic fervor through each of its pores, he had lost almost all sense of who and what he was. And when, in turn, the Calcutta Star sailed out of port, the bishop thought he saw, there on the deserted dock by the Ganges, a score of stray dogs lapping up a shining pool of blood, with a hundred others racing through the empty streets to join in the feast. “Really! Is that all that’s left of the Consul?” he wondered—the only coherent idea that managed to muddle its way through his head. He even thought he saw one of the dogs spelling words in the blood with his tongue. But the ship was already out too far, and he couldn’t read what they said, or even be sure that they really were words (though it seemed for a moment he could make out a few Latin syllables). For days on end he would sit transfixed on deck, in the stench of a yogi-style squat, racking his brain to the rhythmic swish of the water along the hull, trying to recall what his eyes had dimly seen. So doing, he soon took leave of his senses.

Thirteen

At the mouth of the Ganges, the delta’s reddened waters paled abruptly as they emptied into the vast Gulf of Bengal, and the hundred ships of the refugee fleet steered a sluggish southwesterly course toward the Straits of Ceylon. The captains had agreed to limp feebly along for the sake of one moribund vessel, the shoddiest of the lot, a big river tugboat used to far calmer waters, the most pitiful cripple in this whole floating slum. Like the rest of her flat deck, her low-slung bow was piled white with pilgrims. With every wave it plunged into the water, paying the sea a ransom of surplus souls, carried off in the mists. A kind of pathetic Hop-o’-my-thumb, struggling to keep pace, and strewing a store of human pebbles over a path of no return. On the lead ship, the India Star, the captain’s fancy cap had changed heads, and sat perched now on a bald, shapeless stump. Gold braid wreathed the monster’s brow; the polished visor shaded his frozen gaze from the ocean sun, as he stood on board commanding the ship and, indeed, the whole fleet. He was like some oracle, consulted before any weighty decision, dispensing his orders. So long as someone could read the flash and flicker of his lidless eyes. In time it became quite clear that, more than once, the fleet owed much to those silent commands …

Some of the actors in the drama were soon to learn how superfluous they were. From the moment the India Star blew her very first blast, in fact. And it came as something of a shock. Ostracized, victims of racial hate or simple indifference—especially indifference—they found themselves prisoners unpenned, yet hemmed in by walls of human flesh deep in the mazes belowdecks, or stuck in some dark, stifling, cubby hole next to the engines. Forgotten outsiders, like captives won in battle, destined now only for the last triumphal march. A few helpless Chinese, and even some whites, squatting on their haunches, huddling together like primitive tribes, alone and hungry. Talking and talking, for a week on end … The event they had shared in, the event they were forced to sit idly by and watch, plunged them deep into raptures of reasoned delight, heightened no doubt by fatigue, and filled with each one’s concept of a bright new world, like something from the glossy pages of any leftist weekly in the West. Experts one and all among themselves, always on the verge, despite their woeful state, of taking self-indulgent credit for their harangues, like satisfied signers of innocuous petitions, ready to bandy back and forth their names, their ideals, their principles—things that mean terribly little, really, when someone is wallowing down in a ship’s dark hold. With no food to sink their teeth into, they chewed the West to shreds with words. Hunger was turning them mean. Already they saw it their mission to guide the flock’s first steps on Western soil. One would empty out all our hospital beds so that cholera-ridden and leprous wretches could sprawl between their clean white sheets. Another wouldcram our brightest, cheeriest nurseries full of monster children. Another would preach unlimited sex, in the name of the one, single race of the future—“a simple matter,” he added, “since unlike skins attract,” which was something he claimed to know all about. Still another would turn our supermarkets over to the barefoot, swarthy horde: “Can’t you see it now! Hundreds of thousands of women and children, smashing their way through those gigantic stores, stuffing their mouths with food, beside themselves with pleasure …”

Now and then one of those viperous tongues stopped wagging long enough to lick a few droplets of moisture condensed on the sheet-iron wall. “Nothing to drink, poor devils!” cried the renegade writer. “Well, decadent world, get ready to share your treasure! Your tubs will be filled to the brim, and the water boy, poor crook-necked bugger, will splash around to his heart’s content, and maybe he’ll even go out of his mind just thinking how heavy it all would be, hanging in buckets from a stick across his shoulders. And you know what? You’ll have to knock at your door, your very own door, to beg for a glass of water!” So saying, he collapsed, not to be heard from again. By the ninth day they had all stopped talking, one by one: militants with a cause, lay missionaries, apostate priests, idealist quacks, activist thinkers, the whole brigade of antiworld thugs that had set sail with the fleet. Somehow they managed to keep alive. From time to time a child brought them rice, prompted, more than likely, by the memory of Ballan and his pocketful of sticky sweets…

It was only when the fleet sailed into the Straits of Ceylon, around the tip of India and then northwest toward the Red Sea and Suez, that the whole world sat up all at once and began to take notice. From that point on, words flowed and flowed from every thoughtful mouth—streaming over radio, coursing over television, and flooding in a swelling tide of print.

Fourteen

“… In a communiqué from Paris received just moments ago, the French government confirms the earlier announcement that a state of emergency has been declared in the four departments bordering the coast, and that reinforcements are being deployed to the south. It has also been confirmed that the President of the Republic will address the French people at midnight, tonight, Paris time, with a message of grave concern. The Soviet government has decided to make public the statements contained in that message, as soon as they have all been reviewed by the Central Committee of the Party, presently meeting in Moscow, in extraordinary plenary session …”

“Ah, Zackaroff! I can see myself now. Hero of the Soviet Union, from grenadier cadet at Stalingrad to general in the artillery, commander of the northern bank of this blasted Amur … And all of a sudden, a year before I’m supposed to retire, they’re going to turn me into a butcher of women and children! … Well, all we can do now is figure how much vodka we’ll need to make those Chinese look as if they all have uniforms. Then we can shoot them without a second thought. … What do you see? What’s happening over there?”

Colonel Zackaroff repliedwithout turning his head. Through the peephole in the command-post bunker, he had his sights trained across the river, watching the Chinese swarming in silence since morning along the Amur’s southern bank.

“We’re going to have our hands full, General! We knew what to expect, but it’s still pretty hard to believe! So many of them, squatting on the ground, lined up in rows as far as the eye can see. Like a giant collective, with Chinamen sprouting wherever you look. On the right, the babies. In the middle, the women. On the left, the young ones. And behind them all, the men. From here, if you count them in squares, like cabbage, I’d say there are two or three million. From a plane, maybe five. And still they keep coming! … Are they just going to pile up in the river? Or do you think they can swim?”

“They’re like dogs, these Chinese,” the general answered. “They know how to swim from the minute they’re born. … Listen, Zackaroff, don’t stop watching. You’ve got to be my eyes. I can’t bear to look. I never could pull the trigger when an animal looked me in the face. … Anyway, don’t waste your pity. Don’t be fooled by those sweet little tots, those clean-cut girls and boys, those helpless-looking women! You can bet when we shoot up that crowd each one we kill will find just the right dramatic pose before they fall in a heap. Anything to impress us. With that faraway look in their eyes that they do so well. And the wounded ones will writhe at our feet, like no other wounded bastard you ever saw. Twenty lessons to learn the whole act, with group drills and practice sessions, and special instructors in make-believe. They love all that. And the ones that put on the biggest show, the ones that seem to be hurting the most, maybe won’t have a scratch. You won’t know who’s wounded and who isn’t. A real Chinese opera! You’ll see how much fun it’s going to be! … What are they up to now, Zackaroff?”

“Nothing’s moving over there. No talking. No singing. No laughing. No nothing. I haven’t seen one of them take a bite to eat all day. Or even move their jaws … You know, there’s one thing that puzzles me: do they pee while they’re squatting like that?”

“Tell a Chinaman ‘don’t,’ and he won’t eat, or drink, or piss, or screw, or think. … Give me the vodka, Zackaroff. Those characters are beginning to get me down. I think I’ll put them all in the Chinese army.”

“I can see something else, General. Every hundred yards or so … Trucks, with loudspeakers on top, aimed this way.”

“Of course. And in each one there’s a damn little Chinaman who speaks Russian, and thinks he’s the star of some second-rate play. A few words from him, and we’re all going to burst into tears! ‘Proletarian comrades of the great Soviet Union, the time has come to return to the Chinese people, in a spirit of brotherly love, these Siberian lands so long a part of their sacred ancestral home. Our women, our children, our peasants stand before you, helpless and unprotected, your brothers and sisters, here to open your eyes, to show you the truth and reclaim what is theirs. Please don’t shoot. We’re unarmed. We’re just poor, humble folk trying to make our way …’ And blahblahblah, and more of the same! … Well I’ll tell you, you have to watch out when you talk about poor, humble folk to other poor, humble folk who haven’t heard anything else but poor, humble folk for some sixty-odd years. You might just take in a few, don’t you know! Then all of a sudden we’ll be sitting by the Urals, across from an unarmed army of pathetic old men, all ten years old, and yellow peons squatting on their haunches! … Give me my bottle, Zackaroff. I’ve got to get uniforms on them all, and stripes!”

“I’m not worried about you,” said the colonel. “I know you can do it. Just like in Berlin, when your vodka turned that crowd of young fraüleins into an SS company of panzer grenadiers … I remember … But here you have two hundred thousand men, General. If the order comes down to shoot, what will you do? Will you get them all drunk? All two hundred thousand?”

“It wouldn’t be the first time. The armies of Peter the Great weren’t sober for a second. The sailors on board the Poteinkin were terrible drunkards. Stalin himself used to dictate his finest maneuvers while he rolled around under the table each night. Yes, I’ve given it some thought, my friend. But the drunk soldier has no prestige anymore. Not in this world of ours, mucked up with brotherly love the way it is. Or the soldier, period. We’re caught in the clutches of the great hermaphrodite, Zackaroff. We’re all its serfs. And we can’t even cut off its balls!”

“Sir?” the colonel queried. “I’m not sure I …”

“World conscience, illiterate prole! World conscience! Imagine how shocked it would be at a piece of news like this: ‘Drunk Russian army slaughters five million unarmed peasants, women and children …’ Anyway, if the French decide to shoot, that mob over there will take the hint and stay where they are. But frankly I don’t think the French can do it. They’ve always been the fair-haired boys of something or other—of the Church, of logic, of love, of revolution. And now, of that blasted hermaphrodite, the dears! So it’s going to be up to us. We’ll have to be the ones to shoot. Thank Heaven our garden-variety muzhik is still the same good-natured oaf he’s always been. Both feet on the ground, head screwed on straight. You see, being slaves to tradition isn’t all that bad! By the time I show up, the hunt will be over. They’ll have bagged themselves five or six thousand Chinese, maybe more. Unfortunately, on an empty stomach, even a muzhik gets tired of splashing around in blood …”

The general closed his eyes and rubbed his lids, as if he were trying to shake off a weariness, heavy and deep.

“Zackaroff,” he said, in a strangely different voice, “tell me again what you see over there. Are there really women and children? Women with breasts? With long, slender necks, and delicate wrists? With pants that hug their bellies and outline their sex? And children too, with those great big eyes? So serious-looking, the way only children can be … You know what I mean, don’t you, Zackaroff? You know how serious children can be when they make up their minds, and play it for all it’s worth …”

“There are women and children, all right! And the way they look from here, General, you’re going to need plenty of vodka. Just like Berlin.”

All at once a voice boomed over from the southern bank, the metallic voice of the damn little Chinaman, star of the second-rate play, mouthing the opening lines of his part:

“Proletarian comrades of the great Soviet Union.

“What did I tell you!” the general smirked. “Time was, we would soften the enemy up with a few rounds of fire. Today they just pound you to hell with their bullshit. The world has had enough of us, Zackaroff. I think it’s time we quit …”

The roaring voice rolled across the river, from one bank to the other:

“You see here before you our women, our children, our peasants, helpless and unprotected, your brothers and sisters, here to open your eyes, to show you the truth. Soon we’ll start to cross the river. Please don’t shoot. We have no arms. We’re just poor, humble folk trying to make our way …”

“What time is it, Zackaroff?”

“Three-ten, General.”

“Then it’s ten past midnight in Paris. That means their president has just finished his speech, and Peking has made up its mind. They’ll be at it like this for the rest of the day, and all through the night, until morning. Call the field marshal, Zackaroff. Ask him for permission to shut up those loudspeakers once and for all …”

“Permission denied,” said the colonel, setting the general’s red phone back on his desk. “Not a drop of blood, except on specific orders from the Kremlin,” he added, with a laugh.

“And you think that’s funny? Can’t you see that those windbags in Moscow have decided not to act, but to keep on arguing, back and forth, in the name of a bunch of principles they think it’s their sacred duty to protect! We’re caught in a crossfire of words, Zackaroff. That’s no good for a soldier. It spoils his final bow!”

“I’m laughing at something else he said, General. He told me to tell you that ‘no blood’ doesn’t mean ‘no vodka’!”

“Ah, him too!” he sighed. “He must wonder what in hell he was doing in China when the first war was over. You should have known him then. A rabble-rousing cutthroat if ever there was one! Well, choke down your regrets, old friend! Come dawn, we’ll all be plastered!” He shook his fist. “Three sensible drunks at your service, Mother Russia! … Come, Zackaroff, let’s drink! And close up that peephole. I don’t want to have to hear that loudmouth! He sounds like a priest, and he’s getting on my nerves. Now that every last padre has his pen or his mike, you can’t even hear yourself drink anymore. Yes, it’s padre time, Zackaroff, that’s what it is. All over the world. They’re oozing out of every country. Thousands of everyday priests, ready and willing to poison the minds of millions of idiots. Bleeding hearts puking out gospels galore … Ready, Zackarofli Forward, march! One, two! One, two! One, two! Keep in step! Head up! Eyes front! Stare vacant! Head empty! Amen!”

“If you don’t mind, General, I’ll pour myself a drink first. I can see we’re in for a good long night.”

Fifteen

To claim that the news of the fleet’s departure caused any great alarm in the Western World when it first became known, would be plainly untrue. Which is doubtless why there was no lack of clever folk, willing, from the start, to spread endless layers of verbal cream, spurting thick and unctuous from the udders of their minds. The obliging bovines of contemporary Western thought, tails all aquiver, acquiesced with delight to the daily milking, especially since, for the moment, there was no cause to think that a serious problem was actually at hand. To appreciate the West’s opinion of the refugee fleet—or, for that matter, of anything new and unfamiliar—one essential fact must be borne in mind: it really couldn’t give less of a damn. Incredible but true. The more it discovers about such things, the more fathomless its ignorance, feeble its interest, and vulgar its own self-concern. The more crass and tasteless, too, its sporadic outbursts, fewer and farther between. Oh yes, to be sure, it indulges in flights of sentiment now and again, but cinema style, like watching a film, or sitting in front of the TV screen, poised for the serial’s weekly installment. Always those spur-of-the-moment emotions or secondhand feelings, pandered by middlemen. Real-world drama, served in the comfort of home by that whore called Mass Media, only stirs up the void where Western opinion has long been submerged. Someone drools at a current event, and mistakes his drivel for meaningful thought. Still, let’s not be too quick to spit our scorn its way. Empty drivel indeed, but it shows nonetheless how reading the papers or watching the news can provoke at least the appearance of thinking. Like Pavlov’s dog, whose slobber revealed the mechanics of instinct. Opinion shakes up its sloth, nothing more. Does anyone really believe that the average Western man, coming home from his ofiice or factory job, and faced with the world’s great upheavals, can eke out much more than a moment’s pause in the monumental boredom of his daily routine? Even Worker Power, that saving grace of our society today, is nothing but a parlor game, and played in a parlor too shabby and worn to stand up to more serious frolics. Risk a few, and the floor will cave in and go crashing to bits. The Moon, Biafra, a murderous earthquake, a campaign against pollution, a six-day war, a Bay of Pigs, the death of a Mao—mere Christmas parties one and all, with the great thoughtless void suddenly wreathed in flowers, and tooting its two-penny whistle. For a little while no one is bored, which is something at least. Quite a bit, in fact, if only it would last! But life isn’t always Sunday, and we can’t have famine in Pakistan or war in Israel every day of the week. (Thank Heaven, by the way, for the Israelis, those entertainers of the Western World. No danger of getting bored as long as they’re on stage. Our jokers can all go to bed and rest easy. When they wake up next morning their café au lait will be steaming, brisk and fresh, to the boom of Israeli guns …) But give a damn? Never! What for? And so, when the first news helicopter flew low over the fleet, off Ceylon, and got a worldwide scoop with a series of staggering pictures, what do you suppose our Western joker thought? That his life was in danger? That time had just started his countdown to death? Not a bit. All he thought was that now, as the fleet limped along on its hopeless course, strewing corpses in its wake, he would finally be able to watch a first-rate serial, week after week.

But now let’s imagine a rude awakening, a plunge into reality, with everyone caught in the soup, like nothing since World War II. The serial suddenly breaks through the screen, smashing it to pieces into the steak and fries. And all at once the hordes of characters stream into the living room, looking the way they did in the fishbowl, doing their tricks a few moments before, only now they’re not acting, and the glass wall is shattered, and they’re armed with their .voes, their wounds, their groans, their grievance, their hate. Their machine guns too. Now they rip through the apartment, jar it out of its orderly calm, stun the families caught short in mid-digestion, spread through the town, the country, the world, pictures come to life, living, breathing problems on the march, newsfilm actors turning on their director in unbridled frenzy, suddenly telling him “shit!” to his face. … Now our poor little friend sees only too well that he should have paid closer attention. He read it all wrong, he heard it all wrong. The story, this time, wasn’t published and aired for his leisurely, private delight. In fact, what he’s going to hear now is this: “A million refugees from the banks of the Ganges set to invade France in the morning. Five more fleets on the way, from Africa, India and Asia.” Then hell run off to lay in supplies, to stock up on sugar, and oil, and sausage, and noodles. And he’ll stick a sockful of gold coins under a board in the floor. He’ll go to his local garage and lick His Lordship’s greasy boots for two jerrycans full, set aside for the periodic evacuation. Then, eyes moist with manly tenderness, he’ll look at his wife, his daughter, his aged mother, and see them already haloed in the nasty aura of self-sacrifice. After which, having belched up the last gaseous echo of the last sumptuous banquet of the Veterans of Gourmet Dining, he’ll declare himself “ready to confront the situation.” With the look on his face somewhat changed, a little more sly and resigned. Prepared to sell out, if need be … But things haven’t gone quite that far for our little friend yet. For the moment, with millions of others, he’s dozing off, ready to drown in the drivel, ears peacefully cocked toward his mind master’s tinkling bells.

What a concert! What talent! All solidly classic, steeped in the noblest tradition of the music of brotherly love. With maestros too numerous to name, loosing a flood of notes, those first few days, a torrent of heavenly voices, angelic enough to make you weep. But still, let’s try. We’ll get tired of reading about them in no time—much sooner than they themselves got tired of their broadsides and speeches—but we mustn’t forget the weight of blame they bear. They took our poor little friend and twisted him around their finger. Not many on purpose, to be sure. But the minions who fawned on the monster, though few, knew what they were doing. And they did their job well. The rest of them spewed out their words and their ink for other irksome reasons; most common of which, a certain aversion to violence, like the beast on the edge of his lush, fragrant forest, threatened with attack, but suddenly loath to growl or bare his fangs, when the merest snarl would be more than enough to protect him. Try to figure it out! Then too, there was more than a goodly dose of moral misgivings—or cowardice, if you will—in the spreading contagion of their spineless pronouncements. Like the fear of not sneering in tune with the other hyenas, of not weeping in time with the pharisee chorus, of not bleating with the fools, of unwittingly proving you can think for yourself; or the fear, above all, that world conscience would point its accusing finger, and single you out as the spoilsport troubling their treasonous revels. Oh what fine scribblers and spouters we had back then, in those early days of borrowed calm before the storm!

One name on the roll of honor has to stand out above the rest: the unspeakable Jean Orelle. Official spokesman of the French Republic, it was he whose babblings broke the silence, in charge, as he was, of starting the auction off. Everyone hoped he would set the bidding high. And he did. Eternal France, in keeping with time-honored custom, owed it to herself to stand up, solo, and squeal out sublime and noble notes of love, with no thought of how she would get off the hook once the die had been cast …

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more from raspail’s the camp of the saints

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Five

If any logic at all can be found in the way a popular myth gets its start, then we have to go back to Calcutta, to the Consulate General of Belgium, to look for the beginnings of the one we can call, for the moment, “the myth of the newfound paradise.” A shabby little consulate, set up in an old colonial villa on the edge of the diplomatic quarter, waking one morning to find a silent throng milling around outside its doors. At daybreak the Sikh guard had chained the front gate shut. From time to time he would point the barrel of his antique rifle between the bars, to urge back the ones who had pushed their way up front. But since he was a decent sort, and since there was really no threat to himself or the gate he was guarding, he would tell them now and again, nicely as he could:

“Look, maybe in a little while you can have some rice. But then you’ll have to go. It’s no use standing around. See the announcement? It’s signed by the Consul himself.”

“What does it say?” the crowd would yell, since none of them could read. “Tell us … Read it out loud …”

As a matter of fact, it was hard to make out much of anything now on the notice posted on the gate, smudged as it was with the prints of the thousand hands that had pawed it over, never quite believing the bad news it proclaimed. But the guard knew the text by heart. He had had to recite it now for a week, day in day out, and he droned it through, word for word, from beginning to end:

“Pursuant to the royal decree of such-and-such date, the government of Belgium has decided to terminate until further notice all adoption procedures presently under way. Henceforth no new requests for adoption will be accepted. Similarly, no Belgian entry visas will be granted for those children currently being processed for departure, even in those cases where a legal adoption and dates the present decree.”

A long moan ran through the crowd. Judging by its length and volume, and by the fact that it welled up out of the silence each time it seemed about to die, the Sikh guard—a master at gauging mass distress—guessed that their number had doubled, at least, since the day before.

“Come on, now. Move back!” he shouted, shaking his gun. “Let’s all quiet down! You’ll get your rice, then you’ll have to go back where you came from. And you’d better stay there from now on, too. You heard the announcement.”

Up front, a woman stepped out of the crowd and started to speak. All the rest stopped to listen, as if she were speaking for each and every one. She was holding a child in her outstretched arms, a little boy, maybe two years old, thrusting his face so close to the gate that it made him cross his big, gaping eyes.

“Look at my son,” she cried. “Isn’t he pretty? Isn’t he solid and strong for his age, with his plump little thighs, and his arms, and his nice straight legs? … See? Look at his mouth. See how white and even his teeth are? … And his face. Not a scab, not a fly. And his eyes, never any pus, wide open all the time … And his hair. You could grab it and pull it, and he wouldn’t lose a one. … Look between his legs, see how clean it all is? Even his little bottom … And his belly, nice and flat, not swollen like some babies his age … I could show you what comes out when he goes, and you wouldn’t see a worm, not even a speck of blood. No, he’s a good, healthy child. Like the papers said he had to be. Because we fed him the best, we fattened him up just for that. From the day he was born. We saw how pretty he was, and we made up our minds we would send him. So he could grow up there, and be rich, and happy … And we fed him more and more, just like the clinic told us. … Then his sisters died. The two of them. They were older than he was, but such sickly little things, and he was so hungry, and prettier every day. He could eat enough for three, God bless him! … And now you’re trying to tell me that we fattened him up for nothing, that his poor father slaved in the ricefields and worked himself to death, all for nothing, and that I’m going to have him on my hands for good, and keep him, and feed him? … No, it’s my turn to eat! And I’m hungry, you hear? Yes, it’s my turn now, because he’s big and strong. … And besides, he’s not mine now, he’s not even mine. He’s got a new family, halfway around the world, and they’re waiting to take him and give him their name. See? It says so on this medal they sent us. The one around his neck. See? I’m not lying! He’s theirs now. Take him, he’s theirs. I’m through. They promised. I did what they told me, and now … No, now I’m too tired …”

A hundred women pushed forward, each one with a child in her outstretched arms. And they cried out things like: “He’s theirs now, he’s theirs!,” or “They promised to take him Pretty babies, mostly, all looking as if they had fed themselves plump on the flesh of their mothers. Poor haggard souls, those mothers, drained dry, as if the umbilical cords were still intact. And the crowd howled, “Take them, take them! They’re theirs now! Take them!,” while hundreds of others pressed forward behind the ones up front, with armfuls of babes by the hundreds, and hundreds of bigger ones too, all ripe for adoption, pushing them up to the brink, to take the giant leap to paradise. The Belgian decree, far from stemming the human flood, had increased it tenfold. When man has nothing left, he looks askance at certainty. Experience has taught that it’s not meant for him. As likelihood fades, myth looms up in its place. The dimmer the chance, the brighter the hope. And so, there they were, thousands of wretched creatures, hoping, crowding against the consulate gates, like the piles of fruit a crafty merchant heaps on his stand, afraid it might spoil: the best ones up front, all shiny and tempting; the next best right behind, still in plain sight, and not too bad if you don’t look too close; then the ones barely visible, the damaged ones, starting to rot, all wormy inside, or turned so you can’t see the mold. … Milling about, way back in the crowd, the women with the monsters, the horrors that no one would take off their hands. And they moaned and groaned louder than all the rest, since their hope knew no bounds. Turned back, pushed aside, driven off day afterday, they had come to believe that a paradise so well protected was worth besieging for the rest of their lives, if need be. Before, when the gate was open and the beautiful children had gone streaming through, occasionally one of these mothers would manage to slip her monster in line. Which was something, at least. A step toward salvation. Even though the Sikh would always hold up his rifle and bar the Consul’s door. They had come close, and that was enough to nurture their hope, enough to make it spring to life with extravagant visions of milk and honey flowing untapped into rivers thick with fish, whose waters washed fields fairly bursting with crops, far as the eye could see, growing wild for the taking, where little monster children could ,roll about to their hearts’ content. … The simpler the folk, the stronger the myth. Soon everyone heard their babble, believed their fantasies, and dreamed the same wild dreams of life in the West. The problem is that, in famine-racked Calcutta, “everyone” means quite a few. Could that be one explanation? …

Way back, behind the backmost women in the crowd, a giant of a man stood stripped to the waist, holding something over his head and waving it like a flag. Untouchable pariah, this dealer in droppings, dung roller by trade, molder of manure briquettes, turd eater in time of famine, and holding high in his stinking hands a mass of human flesh. At the bottom, two stumps; then an enormous trunk, all hunched and twisted and bent out of shape; no neck, but a kind of extra stump, a third one in place of a head, and a bald little skull, with two holes for eyes and a hole for a mouth, but a mouth that was no mouth at all—no throat, no teeth—just a flap of skin over his gullet. The monster’s eyes were alive, and they stared straight ahead, high over the crowd, frozen forward in a relentless gaze—except, that is, when his pariah father would wave him bodily back and forth. It was just that lidless gaze that flashed through the bars of the gate and caught the eye of the Consul himself, staring in spellbound horror. He had stepped outside for a look at the crowd, to see what was going on. But it wasn’t the crowd he saw. And all at once he closed his eyes and began to shout:

“No rice! No visas! No anything! You won’t get another thing, do you hear? Now get out! Get out! Every one of you! Out!”

As he turned to rush off, a sharp little stone hit him square on the forehead and left a gash. The monster’s eyes lit up. The quiver that ran through his frame was his way of thanking his father. And that was all. No other act of violence. Yet suddenly the keeper of the milk and honey, stumbling back to his consulate, head in hands, struck the crowd as a rather weak defender of the sacred portals of the Western World. So weak, in fact, that if only they could wait, sooner or later he was bound to drop the keys. Could that be one explanation? …

The Sikh took aim. The hint was enough. They all squatted down on their haunches, hushed and still, like waters ebbing before the flood.

Six

“You and your pity!” the Consul shouted. “Your damned, obnoxious, detestable pity! Call it what you please: world brotherhood, charity, conscience … I take one look at you, each and every one of you, and all I see is contempt for yourselves and all you stand for. Do you know what it means? Can’t you see where it’s leading? You’ve got to be crazy. Crazy or desperate. You’ve got to be out of your minds just to sit back and let it all happen, little by little. All because of your pity. Your insipid, insufferable pity!”

The Consul was sitting behind his desk, a bandage on his forehead. Across from him, some ten or so figures sat rooted to wooden chairs, like apostles carved in stone on a church façade. Each of the statues had the same white skin, the same gaunt face, the same simple dress—long duck pants or shorts, half-sleeve khaki shirt, open sandals—and most of all the same deep, unsettling gaze that shines in the eyes of prophets, philanthropists, seers, fanatics, criminal geniuses, martyrs—weird and wondrous folk of every stripe—those split-personality creatures who feel out of place in the flesh they were born with. One was a bishop, but unless you already knew, it was quite impossible to tell him apart from the missionary doctor or the starry-eyed layman by his side. Just as impossible to single out the atheist philosopher and the renegade Catholic writer, convert to Buddhism, both spiritual leaders of the little band … They all just sat there without a word.

“The trouble is,” the Consul continued, “you’ve gone too far! And on purpose! Because you’re so convinced it’s the right thing to do. Have you any idea how many children from the Ganges here have been shipped off to Belgium? Not to mention the rest of Europe, and those other sane countries that closed their borders off before we did! Forty thousand, that’s how many! Forty thousand in five years! And all of you, so sure you could count on our people. Playing on their sentiments, their sympathy. Perverting their minds with vague feelings of self-reproach, to twist their Christian charity to your own bizarre ends. Weighing our good, solid burghers down with a sense of shame and guilt. … Forty thousand! Why, there weren’t even that many French in Canada back in the seventeen-hundreds. … And in two-faced times like these, you can bet the government won’t admit what’s really behind that racist decree. … Yes, racist, that’s what I called it. You loathe the word, don’t you? You’ve gone and worked up a race problem out of whole cloth, right in the heart of the white world, just to destroy it. That’s what you’re after. You want to destroy our world, our whole way of life. There’s not one of you proud of his skin, and all that it stands for …”

“Not proud, or aware of it, either,” one of the statues corrected. “That’s the price we have to pay for the brotherhood of man. We’re happy to pay it.”

“Yes, well, we’ve gone beyond that now,” said the Consul. “Adoption isn’t the issue anymore, discontinued or otherwise. I’ve been on the phone with my colleagues in all the Western consulates. They tell me it’s just the same. Great crowds outside, milling around, quiet, as if they’re waiting for something to happen. And mind you, none of the others have decrees on their gates. Besides, look at the English. Their visas were like hens’ teeth, but that hasn’t kept ten thousand people from squatting in the gardens outside their consulate. It’s the same all over the city. Wherever a Western flag is flying, there’s a crowd out there, waiting. Just waiting. And that’s not all. I’ve just heard that back in the hinterlands whole villages are swarming out onto the roads to Calcutta.”

“Very true,” said another of the statues, his face trimmed with long blond whiskers. “They’re the villages we’ve been working with, mainly.”

“Well, if you know them, what on earth do they want? What are they waiting for?”

“Frankly, we’re not quite sure.”

“Do you have an idea?”

“Perhaps.”

The bearded statue’s lips broke out in a curious smile. Was it the bishop? The renegade writer?

“You mean you had the nerve the Consul began, leaving his question and thought in the air. “No! I don’t believe it! You wouldn’t go that far!”

“Quite so,” said a third statue—the bishop this time, in the flesh—“I wouldn’t have gone that far myself.

“Are you saying you’ve lost control?”

“I’m afraid we have. But it doesn’t matter. Most of us are glad to go along. You’re right. There is something brewing, and it’s going to be tremendous. The crowds can feel it, even if they have no notion what it’s all about. Myself, I have one explanation. Instead of the piecemeal adoptions that these poor folk have hoped for and lived for, perhaps now they’re hoping and living for something much bigger, something wild and impossible, like a kind of adoption en masse. In a country like this that’s all it would take to push a movement beyond the point of no return.”

“Nice work, Your Grace,” the Consul retorted, simply. “A lovely job for a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church! Mercenary, hireling to the pagans, all of a sudden! What is this, the Crusades in reverse? Judas leaping up on Peter the Hermit’s nag, and crying, ‘Down with Jerusalem!’? … Well, you chose a good time. There’s no shortage of poor. There are millions and millions! The year isn’t three months old, and already half of this province alone is starving. And the government won’t do a thing. They’ve had it. Whatever happens now, they’re going to wash their hands. That’s what every consul in the city heard this morning. And what have you all been doing in the meantime? You’ve been ‘bearing witness.’ Isn’t that what you call it?

Bearing witness to what? To your faith? Your religion? To your Christian civilization? Oh no, none of that! Bearing witness against yourselves, like the anti-Western cynics you’ve all become. Do you think the poor devils that flock to your side aren’t any the wiser? Nonsense! They see right through you. For them, white skin means weak convictions. They know how weak yours are, they know you’ve given in. You can thank yourselves for that. The one thing your struggle for their souls has left them is the knowledge that the West—your West—is rich. To them, you’re the symbols of abundance. By your presence alone, they see that it does exist somewhere, and they see that your conscience hurts you for keeping it all to yourselves. You can dress up in rags and pretend to be poor, eat handfuls of curry to your hearts’ content. You can spread your acolytes far and wide, let them live like the peasants and dispense their wise advice. … It’s no use, they’ll always envy you, no matter how you try. You knew I’m right. After all your help—all the seeds, and drugs, and technology—they found it so much simpler just to say, ‘Here’s my son, here’s my daughter. Take them. Take me. Take us all to your country.’ And the idea caught on. You thought it was fine. You encouraged it, organized it. But now it’s too big, now it’s out of your hands. It’s a flood. A deluge. And it’s out of control … Well, thank God we still have an ocean between us!”

“Yes, an ocean. We do have an ocean,” a fourth statue observed, lost in reflection at the obvious thought.

“You know,” the Consul went on, “there’s a very old word that describes the kind of men you are. It’s ‘traitor.’ That’s all, you’re nothing new. There have been all kinds. We’ve had bishop traitors, knight traitors, general traitors, statesman traitors, scholar traitors, and just plain traitors. It’s a species the West abounds in, and it seems to get richer and richer the smaller it grows. Funny, you would think it should be the other way around. But the mind decays, the spirit warps. And the traitors keep coming. Since that day in 1522, the twelfth of October, when that noble knight Andrea d’Amaral, your patron saint, threw open the gates of Rhodes to the Turks … Well, that’s how it is, and no one can change it. I can’t, I’m sure. But I can tell you this: I may be wrong about your results, but I find your actions beneath contempt. Gentlemen, your passports will not be renewed. That’s the one official way I can still show you how I feel. And my Western colleagues are doing the same with any of their nationals involved.”

One of the statues stood up. The one who had mused about the ocean. He was, in fact, the atheist philosopher, known in the West by the name of Ballan.

“Passports, countries, religions, ideals, races, borders, oceans …” Ballan shouted. “What bloody rubbish!”

And he left the room without another word.

“At any rate,” the Consul said, “I suppose I should thank you for hearing me out. I imagine I’ve seen the last of you all. That’s probably why you’ve been so patient. I’m nothing now as far as you’re concerned. Just a relic, a dying breed …”

“Not quite,” replied the bishop. “We’ll both be relics together, only on different sides, that’s all. You see, I’ll never leave India.”

Outside the consulate gates, Ballan elbowed his way through the crowd, through the crush of monster children—the most monstrous of the lot clinging to his legs, drooling on his trousers. Ballan held a strange fascination for the monsters, the same fascination they held for him. He reached into his pockets, always filled with sticky sweets, and stuffed their shapeless mouths. Then he noticed the giant, the turd eater, standing there still topped with his hideous totem. And Ballan called out:

“What are you doing here, dung man? What do you want?”

“Please, take us with you. Please …”

“Today’s the day, my friend. We’ll both be in paradise, you and I.”

“Today?” the poor man repeated, bewildered.

And Ballan smiled a compassionate smile.

Could that be one explanation? …

Seven

“… in the four departments bordering the coast, under the command of the undersecretary, Monsieur Jean Perret, personal representative of the President of the Republic. The army will make every effort to protect all property left behind, insofar as its other duties permit. Government sources confirm that the President of the Republic will address the nation at midnight, tonight, with a message of grave concern …”

The ones who knew French turned down their radios and translated the announcement for the horde of compatriots piled on all sides. The cellar had never seemed nearly so full as it did that night. It housed the black rubbish men of the northern wards of Paris. With all of them crammed in together, eight to a double-deck bed, legs dangling over the edges, there was a feeling of solidity and strength that even they themselves had never noticed. Oddly enough for such talkative types, no one dared risk a word, not even the handful of whites that were part of the vast mass of black, among them one of those ragtag priests and a militant tough at war with the social order. Everyone was thinking, straining his mind to the utmost. It’s not easy to conceive the dizzying dimensions of something so unbelievable when you live in a strange city, down some godforsaken cellar, and the only time you get out is first thing every dismal morning, to pick up the rubbish along nameless streets.

“And if they manage to land in one piece, what then?” asked one of them, the one they called “the Chief,” since he had lived in France for quite some time. “What if they land, will all of you climb up out of your rat holes too?”

The only reply was a long, meaningless murmur. None of those underfed brains worked fast enough to picture the possible chain of events. But something was building up inside, something slow to take shape, but powerful and solemn all the same. Then, from the dark recesses of one of the bunks, a voice boomed out:

“All depends. Will there be enough rats?’

“By daylight,” the ragtag priest replied, “they’ll be thick as the trees in a giant forest, sprung up overnight in the darkness.”

That much they understood, and the murmur rippled with approval. Then they sat back, ready to wait …

There were others waiting too that night: the swill men, sewer men, sweepers from all the dumps the length and breadth of Paris; the peons and bedpan pushers from all the hospitals; the dishwashers from the shabby cafés; the laborers from Billancourt and Javel, from Saint-Denis and beyond; the swivel-hipped menials digging their pits around gas pipes and cables; the fodder for industry’s lethal chores; the machinery feeders, the Metro troglodytes, black crabs with ticket-punching claws; the stinking drudges who mucked around in filth; and the myriad more, embodiments all of the hundreds of essential jobs that the French had let slip through their delicate fingers; plus the ones who were coughing their lungs out in clinics, and the ones with a healthy dose in the syphilis wards. All in all, a few hundred thousand Arabs and blacks, invisible somehow to the ostrich Parisians, and far more numerous than anyone would think, since the powers that be had doctored the statistics, afraid of jolting the sleepwalking city too violently out of its untroubled trance. Paris was no New York. They waited now the same meek way they lived, overlooked and unknown, in virtual terror, whole tribes of fellow sufferers hiding away in the depths of their cellars or huddling together up under the eaves, happy to shut themselves off in infested streets, where grimy façades hid unsuspected ghettos as wholly unknown to the people of Paris as Ravensbruck and Dachau, once upon a time, had been to the Germans.

It was only among the Arabs that the thought of the unlikely confrontation brewing off the southern coast of France would occasionally take a vengeful turn. Nothing too concrete yet, only shadowy yearnings and suppressed desires, like the wish to see a French- woman smile, rather than dreaming of having to rape her; or being able to get yourself a pretty whore, instead of hearing her tell you, “I don’t go to bed with dirty Arabs”; or just being able to take a carefree walk through the park, and not suddenly see all the terrified females cluster around to protect their young, like mother hens ready to pounce. That evening, only the most fanatic envisioned a new kind of holy war, and one that wasn’t even theirs to wage. Still, in no time at all, the Algerian quarters all through Paris and the suburbs had been zoned off again into sectors. A certain Mohammed, the one called “Cadi One-Eye,” appeared to be in supreme command. By eleven that night he had managed to pass his first orders down the line to all the sector chiefs:

“The time for violence is over. Have them put away their razors, have them break their knives in two. The first one I hear of who spills any blood, I’ll see that he’s castrated.”

He was an Arab, and he knew how to talk to Arabs. And so they all obeyed him. Except, that is, for his schoolteacher wife, who was white and French. Indeed, his own razor was quick to disappear. It was hidden inside her right stocking, flat against the thigh. Élise had known what contempt was like. For all ten years of her married life, not one of its subtle barbs had escaped her. She cherished a dream of redemption by blood, and she wasn’t alone. Of all the French wives of ghetto Arabs—a scant thousand, perhaps—not a few had felt that burden of contempt. Among the Arabs, unlike the blacks, they were the only Western intruders. The clan loathed the stranger more as friend than foe; and if it accepted these Christian wives at all, it was only because it had swallowed them up, only because they belonged to it utterly, sex and soul, even more than Frenchwomen do to their Frenchmen …

There were some, though, who had a clear notion of just what a crucial struggle the next day would bring. They had closed their shutters, barred their doors, drawn the drapes in their rooms and offices, and sat clustered in silence around their radios, eager for news, waiting like everyone else for the promised address by the President of the Republic. They were the Third World diplomats and students—Africans, Arabs, Asians. On the verge of panic, with nowhere to turn, they had even stopped calling back and forth between their embassies, between their homes, so suddenly crushed by the turn of events, that they—the rich, the select, the leaders, the militant elite—no longer even bothered to keep abreast of each other. Which was all the stranger since, during the fifty days of the fleet’s dramatic odyssey over two oceans, they had been consumed in a frenzy of thoughtful reflection, issuing endless communiqués, holding press conferences, interviews, meetings, debates, one after the other, while the fleet pressed on and on, a mixture of fact and myth, a phenomenon so untoward that people would have to see it before they believed it. Then Gibraltar, finally, and see it they did! And suddenly all those eager devotees stopped wagging their tongues, their zeal turned to panic, and some—if the dark truth be known—had to hold back a flood of hate at the brink.

Closed, now, the West Indian bars, the Chinese restaurants, the African dance halls, the Arab cafés. In the light of other reports—from embassy guards, from worker and student informers—these signs all tended to kill any lingering doubts the police might have that the situation in Paris, eight hundred kilometers from the refugee fleet, was as grave as it was along the southern coast. Yes, a state of emergency should be declared here too, with the whole array of preventive measures, while they still had time. … The prefect of police called the Élysée Palace. He tried to get through to the Minister of the Interior. But all he was told was that the meeting was still in progress. … Three-quarters of an hour to go before the address, and the government still hadn’t made up its mind! The prefect, too, assumed that all he could do now was wait.

Could that be one explanation? …

“a novel both prescient and appalling…written with tremendous verbal energy and passion”

Finding informed comment, literary or otherwise, on Jean Raspail’s 1973 novel The Camp of the Saints is exceptionally difficult; most of the novel’s enthusiast’s in the online world are isolationists and outright racists.

A rare exception to this state of affairs occurred when U.S. novelist Lionel Shriver offered her thoughts on Raspail’s novel several years ago in the New Statesman:

…Yet these high-density nightmares are usually uncomplicated by race, which lends them a certain innocence. The same cannot be said of Jean Raspail’s The Camp of the Saints (1973), a novel both prescient and appalling. It is the year 2000, and Raspail’s population projection of seven billion worldwide turned out to be close. Resentful and wretched, 800,000 residents of Calcutta swarm on to a fleet of ships and steer the convoy toward the coast of France. As the rutting, reeking, hate-driven throng approaches, the liberal, multicultural France prepares to greet her "visitors" with open arms. Meantime, resident immigrants, despising their menial jobs, constitute a waiting fifth column. By the time the ships run ashore – and the first landing party is a tide of bloated corpses thrown overboard – similar seajackings have occurred elsewhere, and the full-scale invasion of the first world by the third world has begun.

Broadly, demography is a lightning-rod for literary reservations about humanity itself, which can appear repulsive in sufficient quantity, or even seem to deserve its fate when bringing extinction upon itself. Alternatively, fiction can animate the humanitarian truism that, biologically, we all sink or swim together. This collective existential ambivalence helps to express the dichotomy that other people are at once resource and rival: we need social co-operation to survive, yet our fiercest competition for that survival comes from our own kind. Beneath the field’s dry statistical surface, there teems an irresistible Pandora’s box of paranoia, nationalism, racism, rivalry, misanthropy and apocalyptic dread. Consequently, demography is sure to tempt more fiction-writing dabblers to prise open the lid.
 

Certainly The Camp of the Saints is racist. Raspail’s stinking "river of sperm" floating toward France is dehumanised, its mascot at the prow a speechless deformed dwarf. Yet it’s a tough call whether Raspail is moredisgusted by "the sweating, starving mass, stewing in urine and noxious gases" or by his own countrymen, who are too paralysed with self-contempt to defend their borders: "Cowardice toward the weak is cowardice at its most subtle, and indeed, its most deadly." And to give the novel its due, it is written with tremendous verbal energy and passion.

Raspail gives bilious voice to an emotion whose expression is increasingly taboo in the west, but that can grow only more virulent when suppressed: the fierce resentment felt by majority populations when that status seems threatened. Moreover, the developing world migration pressures that Raspail foresaw are indeed being brought to bear, as squalid human trafficking proliferates and hundreds of asylum-seekers nightly storm the Channel Tunnel at Calais, often bringing rail services to a halt. If The Camp of the Saints contains a lesson, it is that majority concerns about immigration need fair airing, for such primitive anxiety is too potent to be consigned solely to the far right. 


—from Lionel Shriver, “Population Doomsday,” New Statesman,
10 June 2002

“man never has really loved humanity all of a piece”… is jean raspail the anti-clézio?

In the wake of the good feelings sparked by J.M.G. Le Clézio`s receipt of this year`s Nobel Proze in Literature, my thoughts soon turned to the career of another French writer who has given serious thought to some of the same issues as Le Clézio, and whose decidedly different conclusions have made him a persona non grata in most literary discussions, Jean Raspail.

Here’s a liitle thought experiment for you: Take a white child, raise him in an isolated town where life seems closer to the ninteenth than the twenty-first century, permit him to read nothing but the Bible until he attains the age of reason, then feed him a steady diet of Louis-Ferdinand Céline and Émile Zola (carefully omitting the Dreyfus affair), Carl Schmitt and Joseph de Maistre, throw in theodd beating for no apparent reason, and then drop him in the middle of London or Paris, or Washington or Toronto, with a “Kick Me” sign on his back and only $20 in his pocket, then in a matter of days one would have… someone very much like Jean Raspail!

Raspail is not well-known in North America, and most of those people one meets who have read him are cranks, white power nuts, or worse, to put it mildly. And indeed, in his best-known book, The Camp of the Saints, Raspail seems to take a perverse delight in forcing us to look at material that borders on the intolerable, and then steps across that border as if steeping out for a stroll in the summer evening. And yet to simply dismiss Raspail as a racist is to do exactly what he would expect you to do—and by commiting that act of dismissal one would both evade and unwittingly manifest the thrust of his book.

There is an integrity in Raspail’s novel that goes beyond his social commentary and political digressions, an integrity that stems from his calling our attention to material we find intolerable—not because he wishes to shock us for his own amusement, but because he honestly believes the matter at hand is so serious, so dire, that it requires our sustained thought immediately: and that desperate effort to have us look at something we don’t want to look at is something so few novelists try to do anymore.

Whatever one thinks of Raspail’s socio-political observations, one must concede—if not admire—the fact that his writing carries the courage of his convictions so openly. To fail to grant Raspail at least that much is to fail to properly enter Raspail’s novelistic world—in other words, it is a failure to read in the fullest sense.

A few years ago an obscure right-wing journal offered this brief accounting of The Camp of the Saints:

In 1973, France saw the original publication of The Camp of the Saints, a novel about the perils of third-world overpopulation taking over the wealthy first-world nations. It was translated into several languages, including English, in 1975. One hundred rusty, dilapidated boats leave India crammed with starving would-be immigrants. Indians, like so many other third-world citizens, are desperate and bitter about their lives. The first worlders know the boats are en route to France, yet they make little effort to prevent the ships from landing. The French citizens feel guilty for having so many material goods and empathize with the miserable, starving masses. The liberal press, churches and students have helped instill a sense of guilt. The people don’t have the will to defend and preserve their culture. Many French try to flee to Switzerland. Leaders of first-world countries watch the progress of the rickety boats and cannot muster the political will to prevent invasions. The new politically correct statement is ”We are all from the Ganges now.” The success of the Indian boats encourages millions of Third Worlders to take over other European nations. The reader is given a glimpse of what happens in New York City. Though the author considered his work a parable, it seems to be a prophecy. Population is increasing, the rusty freighters are arriving and we do not have the political will to control our borders. The mainstream liberal press condemned Jean Raspail’s book as racist, a tirade and preposterous, but such remarks only appeared to increase sales figures. The Atlantic Monthly called it ”one of the most disturbing novels of the late twentieth century” in a December 1994 review. The Social Contract Press reprinted the book in 1994, and used on its cover a photo of the Golden Venture passengers gathered on the beach in Queens, New York, in 1993. The author has written 19 other books including Seven Horsemen.

Carol Joyal, review of Jean Raspail’s The Camp of the Saints, The Social Contract (Summer 2000).

If Lawrence’s dictum that “the novel is the one big bright book of life” is true, then The Camp of the Saints is an anti-novel—not by virtue of its aesthetics, which are straightforwardly conventional (no Robbe-Grillet-style experimentation here)—but because of its unrelenting commitment to follow its own internal—and infernal—logic into the dark, life-denying places no normal person wishes to go.

And yet, after a certain point, one cannot elect to simply shut the book and put it back on the shelf: some furious impulse latent in the narrative forces one to go right through to the novel’s appalling conclusion. Acknowledging a book’s ability to force one to read almost against one’s will—that must be one of the highest tributes one can pay to the power of a novelist’s art.

To conclude: finding oneself in The Camp of the Saints is bracing experience. It can force you to look at your own accumulated stores of received wisdom and what we think of as common sense, and defend your assumptions and suppositions—or reject them. This is not always a pleasant process. Jean Raspail’s France, in fact, the whole of the Western world as he conceives it, is not a very nice place to visit… but in many ways we are already living there. Read him.

 

THE CAMP OF THE SAINTS

By Jean Raspail

Translated by Norman Shapiro

Originally published in French as Le Camp Des Saints, 1973

 

And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison, and will go forth and deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, and will gather them together for the battle; the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up over the breadth of the earth and encompassed the camp of the saints, and the beloved city. —APOCALYPSE 20

My spirit turns more and more toward the West, toward the old heritage. There are, perhaps, some treasures to retrieve among its ruins … I don’t know. —LAWRENCE DURRELL

As seen from the outside, the massive upheaval in Western society is approaching the limit beyond which it will become “meta-stable” and must collapse. —SOLZHENITSYN

 

I HAD WANTED TO WRITE a lengthy preface to explain my position and show that this is no wild-eyed dream; that even if the specific action, symbolic as it is, may seem farfetched, the fact remains that we are inevitably heading for something of the sort. We need only glance at the awesome population figures predicted for the year 2000, i.e., twenty-eight years from now: seven billion people, only nine hundred million of whom will be white.

But what good would it do?

I should at least point out, though, that many of the texts I have put into my characters’ mouths or pens—editorials, speeches, pastoral letters, laws, news stories, statements of every description—are, in fact, authentic. Perhaps the reader will spot them as they go by. In terms of the fictional situation I have presented, they become all the more revealing.

—J.R.

 

One

The old professor had a rather simple thought. Given the wholly abnormal conditions, he had read, and reasoned, and even written too much—versed as he was in the workings of the mind—to dare propose anything, even to himself, but the most banal of reflections, worthy of a schoolboy’s theme. It was a lovely day, warm but not hot, with a cool spring breeze rolling gently and noiselessly over the covered terrace outside the house. His was one of the last houses up toward the crest of the hill, perched on the rocky slope like an outpost guarding the old brown-hued village that stood out above the landscape, towering over it all, as far as the tourist resort down below; as far as the sumptuous boulevard along the water, with its green palms, tips barely visible, and its fine white homes; as far as the sea itself, calm and blue, the rich man’s sea, now suddenly stripped of all the opulent veneer that usually overspread its surface—the chrome-covered yachts, the muscle-bulging skiers, the gold-skinned girls, the fat bellies lining the decks of sailboats, large but discreet—and now, stretching over that empty sea, aground some fifty yards out, the incredible fleet from the other side of the globe, the rusty, creaking fleet that the old professor had been eyeing since morning. The stench had faded away at last, the terrible stench of latrines, that had heralded the fleet’s arrival, like thunder before a storm. The old man took his eye from the spyglass, moved back from the tripod. The amazing invasion had loomed up so close that it already seemed to be swarming over the hill and into his house. He rubbed his weary eye, looked toward the door. It was a door of solid oak, like some deathless mass, jointed with fortress hinges. The ancestral name was carved in somber wood, and the year that one of the old man’s forebears, in uninterrupted line, had completed the house: 1673. The door opened out on the terrace from the large main room that served as his library, parlor, and study, all in one. There was no other door in the house. The terrace, in fact, ran right to the road, down five little steps, with nothing like a gate to close them off, open to any and every passerby who felt like walking up and saying hello, the way they did so often in the village. Each day, from dawn to dusk, that door stood open. And on this particular evening, as the sun was beginning to sink down to its daily demise, it was open as well—a fact that seemed to strike the old man for the very first time. It was then that he had this fleeting thought, whose utter banality brought a kind of rapturous smile to his lips: “I wonder,” he said to himself, “if, under the circumstances, the proverb is right, and if a door really has to be open or shut …”

Then he took up his watch again, eye to glass, to make the most of the sun’s last, low-skimming rays, as they lit the unlikely sight one more time before dark. How many of them were there, out on those grounded wrecks? If the figures could be believed—the horrendous figures that each terse news bulletin had announced through the day, one after another—then the decks and holds must be piled high with layer on layer of human bodies, clustered in heaps around smokestacks and gangways, with the dead underneath supporting the living, like one of those columns of ants on the march, teeming with life on top, exposed to view, and below, a kind of ant-paved path, with millions of trampled cadavers. The old professor—Calgues by name—aimed his glass at one of the ships still lit by the sun, then patiently focused the lens until the image was as sharp as he could make it, like a scientist over his microscope, peering in to find his culture swarming with the microbes that he knew all the time must be there. The ship was a steamer, a good sixty years old. Her five stacks, straight up, like pipes, showed how very old she was. Four of them were lopped off at different levels, by time, by rust, by lack of care, by chance—in short, by gradual decay. She had run aground just off the beach, and lay there, listing at some ten degrees. Like all the ships in this phantom fleet, there wasn’t a light to be seen on her once it was dark, not even a glimmer. Everything must have gone dead—boilers, generators, everything, all at once—as she ran to meet her self-imposed disaster. Perhaps there had been just fuel enough for this one and only voyage. Or perhaps there was no one on board anymore who felt the need to take care of such things—or of anything else—now that the exodus had finally led to the gates of the newfound paradise. Old Monsieur Calguès took careful note of all he saw, of each and every detail, unaware of the slightest emotion within him. Except, that is, for his interest; a prodigious interest in this vanguard of an antiworld bent on coming in the flesh to knock, at long last, at the gates of abundance. He pressed his eye to the glass, and the first things he saw were arms. As best he could tell, his range of vision described a circle on deck ten yards or so in diameter. Then he started to count. Calm and unhurried. But it was like trying to count all the trees in the forest, those arms raised high in the air, waving and shaking together, all outstretched toward the nearby shore. Scraggy branches, brown and black, quickened by a breath of hope. All bare, those fleshless Gandhi-arms. And they rose up out of scraps of cloth, white cloth that must have been tunics once, and togas, and pilgrims’ saris. The professor reached two hundred, then stopped. He had counted as far as he could within the bounds of the circle. Then he did some rapid calculation. Given the length and breadth of the deck, it was likely that more than thirty such circles could be laid out side by side, and that between every pair of tangent circumferences there would be two spaces, more or less triangular in shape, opposite one another, vertex to vertex, each with an area roughly equal to one-third of a circle, which would give a total of 30 + 10 = 40 circles, 40 x 200 arms = 8,000 arms. Or four thousand bodies! On this one deck alone! Now, assuming that they might be several layers thick, or at least no less thick on each of the decks—and between decks and below decks too—then the figure, astounding enough as it was, would have to be multiplied by eight. Or thirty thousand creatures on a single ship! Not to mention the dead, floating here and there around the hull, trailing their white rags over the water, corpses that the living had been throwing overboard since morning. A curious act, all in all, and one not inspired by reasons of hygiene, to be sure. Otherwise, why wait for the end of the voyage? But Monsieur Calgues felt certain he had hit on the one explanation. He believed in God. He believed in all the rest: eternal life, redemption, heavenly mercy, hope and faith. He believed as well, with firm conviction, that the corpses thrown out on the shores of France had reached their paradise too to waft their way through it, unconstrained, forevermore. Even more blessed than the living themselves, who, throwing them into the sea, had offered their dead, then and there, the gift of salvation, joy, and all eternity. Such an act was called love. At least that was how the old professor understood it.

And so night settled in, but not until daylight had glimmered its last red rays once more on the grounded fleet. There were better than a hundred ships in all, each one caked with rust, unfit for the sea, and each one proof of the miracle that had somehow guided them, safe and sound, from the other side of the earth. All but one, that is, wrecked off the coast of Ceylon. They had lined up in almost mannerly fashion, one after the other, stuck in the sand or in among the rocks, bows upraised in one final yearning thrust toward shore.

And all around, thousands of floating, white-clad corpses, that daylight’s last waves were beginning to wash aground, laying them gently down on the beach, then rolling back to sea to look for more. A hundred ships! The old professor felt a shudder well up within him, that quiver of exaltation and humility combined, the feeling we sometimes get when we turn our minds, hard as we can, to notions of the infinite and the eternal. On this Easter Sunday evening, eight hundred thousand living beings, and thousands of dead ones, were making their peaceful assault on the Western World. Tomorrow it would all be over. And now, rising up from the coast to the hills, to the village, to the house and its terrace, a gentle chanting, yet so very strong for all its gentleness, like a kind of singsong, droned by a chorus of eight hundred thousand voices. Long, long ago, the Crusaders had sung as they circled Jerusalem, on the eve of their last attack. And Jericho’s walls had crumbled without a fight when the trumpets sounded for the seventh time. Perhaps when all was silent, when the chanting was finally stilled, the chosen people too would feel the force of divine displeasure. … There were other sounds as well. The roar of hundreds of trucks. Since morning, the army had taken up positions on the Mediterranean beaches. But there in the darkness there was nothing beyond the terrace but sky and stars.

It was cool in the house when the professor went inside, but he left the door open all the same. Can a door protect a world that has lived too long? Even a marvel of workmanship, three hundred years old, and one carved out of such utterly respectable Western oak? … There was no electricity. Obviously, the technicians from the power plants along the coast had fled north too, with all the others, the petrified mob, turning tail and running off without a word, so as not to have to look, not see a thing, which meant they wouldn’t have to understand, or even try. The professor lit the oil lamps that he always kept on hand in case the lights went out. He threw one of the matches into the fireplace. The kindling, carefully arranged, flashed up with a roar, crackled, and spread its light and warmth over the room. Then he turned on his transistor, tuned all day long to the national chain. Gone now the pop and the jazz, the crooning ladies and the vapid babblers, the black saxophonists, the gurus, the smug stars of stage and screen, the experts on health and love and sex. All gone from the airwaves, all suddenly judged indecent, as if the threatened West were concerned with the last acoustic image it presented of itself. Nothing but Mozart, the same on every station. Eine kleine Nachtmusik, no less. And the old professor had a kindly thought for the program director, there in his studio in Paris. He couldn’t possibly see or know, and yet he had understood. For those eight hundred thousand singsong voices that he couldn’t even hear, he had found, instinctively, the most fitting reply. What was there in the world more Western than Mozart, more civilized, more perfect? No eight hundred thousand voices could drone their chant to Mozart’s notes. Mozart had never written to stir the masses, but to touch the heart of each single human being, in his private self. What a lovely symbol, really! The Western World summed up in its ultimate truth … An announcer’s voice roused the old professor from his musings:

“The President of the Republic has been meeting all day at the Élysée Palace with government leaders. Also present, in view of the gravity of the situation, are the chiefs of staff of the three branches of the armed forces, as well as the heads of the local and state police, the prefects of the departments of Var and Alpes-Maritimes, and, in a strictly advisory capacity, His Eminence the Cardinal Archbishop of Paris, the papal nuncio, and most of the Western ambassadors currently stationed in the capital. At present the meeting is still in progress. A government spokesman, however, has just announced that this evening, at about midnight, the President of the Republic will go on the air with an address of utmost importance to the nation. According to reports reaching us from the south, all still seems quiet on board the ships of the refugee fleet. A communiqué from army headquarters confirms that two divisions have been deployed along the coast in the face … in the face of …” (The announcer hesitated. And who could blame him? Just what should one call that numberless, miserable mass? The enemy? The horde? The invasion? The Third World on the march?) “… in the face of this unprecedented incursion (There! Not too bad at all!) “… and that three divisions of reinforcements are heading south at this moment, despite considerable difficulty of movement. In another communiqué, issued not more than five minutes ago, army chief of staff Colonel Dragasès has reported that troops under his command have begun setting fire to some twenty immense wooden piles along the shore, in order to … (Another hesitation. The announcer seemed to gasp. The old professor even thought he heard him mutter “My God!”) “… in order to burn the thousands of dead bodies thrown overboard from all the ships …”

And that was all. A moment later, with hardly a break, Mozart was back, replacing those three divisions hurtling southward, and the score of funeral pyres that must have begun to crackle by now in the crisp air down by the coast. The West doesn’t like to burn its dead. It tucks away its cremation urns, hides them out in the hinterlands of its cemeteries. The Seine, the Rhine, the Loire, the Rhône, the Thames are no Ganges or Indus. Not even the Guadalquivir and the Tiber. Their shores never stank with the stench of roasting corpses. Yes, they have flowed with blood, their waters have run red, and many a peasant has crossed himself as he used his pitchfork to push aside the human carcasses floating downstream. But in Western times, on their bridges and banks, people danced and drank their wine and beer, men tickled the fresh, young laughing lasses, and everyone laughed at the wretch on the rack, laughed in his face, and the wretch on the gallows, tongue dangling, and the wretch on the block, neck severed—because, indeed, the Western World, staid as it was, knew how to laugh as well as cry—and then, as their belfreys called them to prayer, they would all go partake of their fleshly god, secure in the knowledge that their dead were there, protecting them, safe as could be, laid out in rows beneath their timeless slabs and crosses, in graveyards nestled against the hills, since burning, after all, was only for devilish fiends, or wizards, or poor souls with the plague. … The professor stepped out on the terrace. Down below, the shoreline was lit with a score of reddish glows, ringed round with billows of smoke. He opened his binoculars and trained them on the highest of the piles, flaming neatly along like a wooden tower, loaded with corpses from bottom to top. The soldiers had stacked it with care, first a layer of wood, then a layer of flesh, and so on all the way up. At least some trace of respect for death seemed to show in its tidy construction. Then all at once, down it crashed, still burning, nothing now but a loathsome mass, like a heap of smoking rubble along the public way. And no one troubled to build the nice neat tower again. Bulldozers rolled up, driven by men in diving suits, then other machines fitted with great jointed claws and shovels, pushing the bodies together into soft, slimy mounds, scooping a load in the air and pouring it onto the fire, as arms and legs and heads, and even whole cadavers overflowed around them and fell to the ground. It was then that the professor saw the first soldier turn and run, calling to mind yet another cliché, arms and legs flapping like a puppet on a string, in perfect pantomime of unbridled panic. The young man had dropped the corpse he was dragging. He had wildly thrown down his helmet and mask, ripped off his safety gloves. Then, hands clutched to temples, he dashed off, zigzag, like a terrified jackrabbit, into the ring of darkness beyond the burning pile. Five minutes more, and ten other soldiers had done the same. The professor closed his binoculars. He understood. That scorn of a people for other races, the knowledge that one’s own is best, the triumphant joy at feeling oneself to be part of humanity’s finest—none of that had ever filled these youngsters’ addled brains, or at least so little that the monstrous cancer implanted in the Western conscience had quashed it in no time at all. In their case it wasn’t a matter of tender heart, but a morbid, contagious excess of sentiment, most interesting to find in the flesh and observe, at last, in action. The real men of heart would be toiling that night, and nobody else. Just a moment before, as the nice young man was running away, old Calguès had turned his glasses briefly on a figure that looked like some uniformed giant, standing at the foot of the burning pile, legs spread, and hurling up each corpse passed over to him, one by one, with a powerful, rhythmic fling, like a stoker of yesteryear deep belowdecks, feeding his boiler with shovelfuls of coal. Perhaps he too was pained at the sight, but if so, his pain didn’t leave much room for pity. In fact, he probably didn’t think of it at all, convinced that now, finally, the human race no longer formed one great fraternal whole—as the popes, philosophers, intellects, politicos, and priests of the West had been claiming for much too long. Unless, that is, the old professor, watching “the stoker” and his calm resolve—the one he called “the stoker” was really Colonel Dragases, the chief of staff, up front to set his men an example—was simply ascribing to him his own ideas. … That night, love too was not of one mind. Man never has really loved humanity all of a piece—all its races, its peoples, its religions—but only those creatures he feels are his kin, a part of his clan, no matter how vast. As far as the rest are concerned, he forces himself, and lets the world force him. And then, when he does, when the damage is done, he himself falls apart. In this curious war taking shape, those who loved themselves best were the ones who would triumph. How many would they be, next morning, still joyously standing their ground on the beach, as the hideous army slipped down by the thousands, down into the water, for the onslaught by the living, in the wake of their dead? Joyously! That was what mattered the most. A moment before, as he watched “the stoker,” the professor had thought he could see him move his lips, wide open, as if he were singing. Yes, by God, singing! If even just the two of them could stand there and sing, perhaps they could wake up the rest from their deathly sleep. … But no other sound came rising from the shore, no sound but the soft, foreboding chant welling up out of eight hundred thousand throats.

“Pretty cool, man, huh!” exclaimed a voice in the shadows.

Two

Noiselessly, the young man had come up the five little steps from the road and onto the terrace. Feet bare, hair long and dirty, flowered tunic, Hindu collar, Afghan vest.

“I’ve just been down there,” he said. “Fantastic! I’ve been waiting five years for something like this!”

“Are you alone?”

“So far. Except for the ones who were already here. But there’s lots more on the way. They’re all coming down. And walking, too. All the pigs are pulling out and heading north! I didn’t see a single car in this direction! Man, they’re going to be bushed, but this is too good to miss. Going to smoke, and shoot dope, and walk all the way. Make it down here on their feet, not on their butts.”

“Did you get a close look down there?”

“Real close. Only not for long. I got smashed a couple of times. Some soldier, with his gun. Like I was trash. But I saw a bunch of other soldiers crying. It’s great! I’m telling you, tomorrow this country’s going to be something else. You won’t know it. It’s going to be born all over.”

“Did you see the people on the boats?”

“You bet I did!”

“And you think you’re anything like them? Look, your skin is white. You’re a Christian, I imagine. You speak our language, you have our accent. You probably even have family hereabouts, don’t you?”

“So what! My real family’s all the people coming off those boats. Here I am with a million of my brothers, and sisters, and fathers, and mothers. And wives if I want them. I’ll sleep with the first one that lets me, and I’ll give her a baby. A nice dark baby. And after a while I’ll melt into the crowd.”

“Yes, you’ll disappear. You’ll be lost in that mass. They won’t even know you exist.”

“Good! That’s just what I’m after. I’m sick of being a tool of the middle class, and I’m sick of making tools of people just like me, if that’s what you mean by existing. My parents took off this morning. And my two sisters with them. Afraid of getting raped, all of a sudden. They went and dressed up like everyone else. These real square clothes, I mean. Things they haven’t put on in years, like neat little skirts, and blouses with buttons. So scared, you wouldn’t know them. Well, they won’t get away. Nobody’s going to get away. Let them try to save their ass. They’re finished, all of them. Man, you should have seen it! My father, with his arms full of shoes from his store, piling them into his nice little truck. And my mother, bawling her head off, figuring out which ones to take, picking out the expensive ones and leaving the rest. And my sisters, already up front, huddling together and staring at me, scared to death, like maybe I was the first one in line to rape them. And meanwhile I’m laughing and having myself a ball, like when my old man pulls down the grille in front of the store and sticks the key in his pocket. ‘Listen,’ I told him, ‘a lot of good that’s going to do! I can open your door myself without a key. And I will, tomorrow. And you know what they’ll do with your goddamn shoes? They’ll probably use them to piss in. Or maybe they’ll eat them. Because they all go barefoot!’ Then he gave me a look, and he spit on me. So I spit back and got him in the eye with a big one. And that’s how we said good-bye.”

“And what brings you here? Why this village? Why my house?”

“I’m looting, that’s why. I sponged off society while it was alive, so now that it’s dead, I’m going to pick its bones. It’s a change. I like it. Because everything’s dead. Except for the army, and you, and a few of my friends, there’s no one around for miles. So I’m looting, man. But don’t worry, I’m not hungry. I’ve already stuffed myself. And anyway, I don’t need much. Besides, everything’s mine now. And tomorrow I’m going to stand here and let them have it all. I’m like a king, man, and I’m going to give away my kingdom. Today’s Easter, right? Well, this is the last time your Christ’s going to rise. And it won’t do you any good this time, either, just like all the rest.”

“I’m afraid I don’t follow

“There’s a million Christs on those boats out there. And first thing in the morning they’re all going to rise. The million of them. So your Christ, all by himself … Well, he’s had it, see?”

“Do you believe in God?”

“Of course not!”

“And those million Christs? Is that your own idea?”

“No, but I thought it was kind of cool. For padre talk, I mean. I got it from this priest. One of those worker types from the wrong side of town. I ran into him an hour ago. I was on my way up here, and he was running like crazy down the hill. Not in rags or anything, but kind of weird. He kept stopping and lifting his arms in the air, like the ones down there, and he’d yell out: ‘Thank you, God! Thank you!’ And then he’d take off again, down to the beach. They say there’s more on the way.”

“More what?”

“More priests, just like him … Say listen, man, I’m getting tired of you. I didn’t come here to talk. Besides, you’re just a ghost. How come you’re still around?”

“I want to hear what you have to say.”

“You mean my bullshit interests you?”

“Immensely.

“Then I’ll tell you something: you’re through. Dried up. You keep thinking and talking, but there’s no more time for that. It’s over. So beat it!”

“Oh? I daresay …”

“Listen. You and this house, you’re both the same. You look like you’ve both been around here for a thousand years.”

“Since 1673, to be exact,” the old gentleman answered, smiling for the first time.

“Three centuries, father to son. And always so sure of yourselves, so damn sure of everything. Man, that’s sick!”

“Quite true. But I find your concern a trifle surprising. Perhaps you’re still one of us after all. Perhaps just a little?”

“Shut up before you make me puke! Maybe you’ve got a pretty house. So what? And maybe you’re not a bad old guy. Smart, and refined, and everything just right. But smug, man, so sure of your place. So sure that you fit right in. With everything around you. Like this village of yours, with its twenty generations of ancestors just like you. Twenty generations without a conscience, without a heart. What a family tree! And now here you are, the last, perfect branch. Because you are, you’re perfect. And that’s why I hate you. That’s why I’m going to bring them here, tomorrow. The grubbiest ones in the bunch. Here, to your house. You’re nothing to them, you and all you stand for. Your world doesn’t mean a thing. They won’t even try to understand it. They’ll be tired, man. Tired and cold. And they’ll build a fire with your big wooden door. And they’ll crap all over your terrace, and wipe their hands on your shelves full of books. And they’ll spit out your wine, and eat with their fingers from all that nice pewter hanging inside on your wall. Then they’ll squat on their heels and watch your easy chairs go up in smoke. And they’ll use your fancy bedsheets to pretty themselves up in. All your things will lose their meaning. Your meaning, man. What’s beautiful won’t be, what’s useful they’ll laugh at, what’s useless they won’t even bother with. Nothing’s going to be worth a thing. Except maybe a piece of string on the floor. And they’ll fight over it, and tear the whole damn place apart. … Yes, it’s going to be tremendous! So go on, beat it. Fuck off!”

“One moment, if I may. You told me there was no more time for thinking and talking, yet you seem to be doing a good deal of both.”

“I’m not thinking, man. I’m just telling you where I stand on things Ithought of long ago. I’m through thinking. So fuck off, you hear me?”

“One last question. When they go smashing everything to bits, they won’t know any better. But why you?”

“Why? Because I’ve learned to hate all this. Because the conscience of the world makes me hate all this, that’s why. Now fuck off! You’re beginning to get on my ass!”

“If you insist. There’s really no point in staying. You’re not making very much sense. I’m sure you have an excellent brain, but I do think it’s been a trifle muddled. Someone has done a fine job. Well now, I’ll be on my way. Just let me get my hat.”

The old gentleman stepped inside. He came out a moment later with a shotgun.

“What’s that for?” the young man asked.

“Why, I’m going to kill you, of course! My world won’t live past morning, more than likely, and I fully intend to enjoy its final moments. And enjoy them I shall, more than you can possibly imagine! I’m going to live myself a second life. Tonight, right here. And I think it should be even better than the first. Of course, since all of my kind have left, I intend to live it alone.”

“And me?”

“You? Why, you’re not my kind. We couldn’t be more unlike. Surely I don’t want to ruin this one last night, this quintessential night, with someone like you. Oh no, I’m going to kill you.”

“You can’t. You won’t know how. I bet you’ve never killed anyone.”

“Precisely. I’ve always led a rather quiet life. A professor of literature who loved his work, that’s all. No war ever called me to serve, and, frankly, the spectacle of pointless butchery makes me ill. I wouldn’t have made a very good soldier, I’m afraid. Still, had I been with Actius, once upon a time, I think I would have reveled in killing my share of Hun. And with the likes of Charles Martel, and Godfrey of Bouillon, and Baldwin the Leper, I’m sure I would have shown a certain zeal in poking my blade through Arab flesh. I might have fallen before Byzantium, fighting by Constantine Dragasès’s side. But God, what a horde of Turks I would have cut down before I gasped my last! Besides, when a man is convinced of his cause, he doesn’t die quite so easily! See, there I am, springing back to life in the ranks of the Teutons, hacking the Slav to shreds. And there, leaving Rhodes with Villiers de l’Isle-Adam and his peerless little band, my white cloak blazoned with the cross, my sword dripping blood. Then sailing with Don Juan of Austria, off to even the score at Lepanto. Ah, what a splendid slaughter! … But soon there’s nothing left for me to do. A few trifling skirmishes now and again, none of them too well thought of these days. Like the War Between the States, when my side is defeated and I join the Ku Klux Klan to murder myself some blacks. A nasty business, I admit. Not quite so bad with Kitchener, though, skewering the Mahdi’s Moslem fanatics, spilling their guts. … But the rest is all current events, a sad little joke. Most of it has already slipped my mind. Perhaps I’ve done my bit, killing a pinch of Oriental at the Berlin gates. A dash of Vietcong here, of Mau Mau there. A touch of Algerian rebel to boot. At worst, some leftist or other, finished off in a police van, or some vicious Black Panther. Yes, it’s all become so terribly ugly. No fanfares anymore, no flags, no hosannas … Oh well, you’ll have to excuse an old professor’s pedantic prattle. But you see, I too have stopped thinking and just want to tell you where I stand. You’re right, I’ve never killed a soul. Much less any of the types I’ve just conjured up, all of them standing here before me, at last, in your flesh, all rolled into one. But now I’m going to live those battles over, all at once, those battles that I feel so much a part of, deep in my soul, and I’m going to act them out, right here, all by myself, with one single shot. Like this!”

The young man collapsed in a graceful glide along the railing where he had been leaning, and wound up in a squat, arms hanging by his sides, in a position that seemed quite natural for him. The red spot over his left breast spread out a little, but the blood stopped quickly. It was a nice, tidy death. As his eyes closed beneath the professor’s gentle thumb and finger, they didn’t even look surprised. No flags, no fanfares. Just a victory Western style, as complete as it was absurd and useless. And, utterly at peace with himself—more exquisitely at peace than he remembered ever being—old Monsieur Calgues turned his back on the corpse and went inside.

Three

Now, all at once, with his mind at ease, the professor’s stomach began to feel great pangs of hunger. And suddenly he remembered other ravenous flashes, especially those colossal appetites that man falls prey to after nights of well-requited love. Those distant passions were nothing but vague sensations now, recalled without regret. But the meals that had followed in their wake—improvised meals for two, consumed on this very spot—still stood out in his memory, sharp and clear. Great, flat slices of country bread, dark-smoked ham from up the mountain, dried goat cheese from the village, olives from the terraced groves, apricots from the garden, steeped in sunlight, and that wine from the rocky slopes, just a little too tart. It was all still there in the house, all right within reach: the bread, in the cupboard with the cross carved into its lid; the olives, in a stoneware pot; the ham, hanging from the beams in the kitchen; the wine and cheese, outside, under the stairs, like rows of books lined up on dimly lit shelves. … In no time at all it was set out, spread over the massive table. For a moment the cork in the bottle held fast. When it finally let go, with a sharp little pop, the familiar sound filled the room with a kind of sensual joy. And it occurred to the old professor that once again, tonight, he was celebrating an act of love.

He poured himself some wine, one hearty glass for his thirst, then one for his pleasure, smacking his lips with a touch of ostentation at the obvious excess. He cut up the ham into fine, thin slices, arranged them neatly on a pewter plate, put out a few olives, laid the cheese on a bed of grape leaves and the fruit on a large, flat basket. Then he sat down before his supper and smiled a contented smile. He was in love. And like any successful suitor, he found himself face to face now with the one he loved, alone. Yet tonight that one was no woman, no living creature at all, but a myriad kindred images formed into a kind of projection of his own inner being. Like that silver fork, for example, with the well-worn prongs, and some maternal ancestor’s initials, now rubbed almost smooth. A curious object, really, when you think that the Western World invented it for propriety’s sake, though a third of the human race still grubs up its food with its fingers. And the crystal, always set out in a row of four, so utterly useless. Well, why not? Why do without glasses, like boors Why stop setting them out, simply because the Brazilian backwood was dying of thirst, or because India was gulping down typhus with every swallow of muck from its dried-up wells? Let the cuckold come pound at the door with their threats of revenge. There’s no sharing in love. The rest of the world can go hang. They don’t even exist. So what if those thousands were all on the march, cuckolded out of the pleasures of life? All the better! … And so, the professor set out the four glasses, lined them up in a row. Then he moved the lamp a little to give more light, and they sparkled like stars. Further over, a rustic chest, huge and immovable. Three centuries, father to son, as the young man said, and so sure of it all. And in that chest such an endless store of tablecloths and napkins, of pillow slips and sheets, of dustcloths and fine linen, product of another age, linen that would last forever, in great thick piles, so tightly packed on the outside alone that he never had to use the other household treasures hidden behind them, all lavender-scented, that his mother, or hers, had stacked away so very long ago, never parting with a stitch for their poor until it was worn out and decently patched, but with lots of good use in it yet, convinced—dear, prudent souls that they were—that unbridled charity is, after all, a sin against oneself. Then, after a while, there were too many poor. Altogether too many. Folk you didn’t even know. Not even from here. Just nameless people. Swarming all over. And so terribly clever! Spreading through cities, and houses, and homes. Worming their way by the thousands, in thousands of foolproof ways. Through the slits in your mailboxes, begging for help, with their frightful pictures bursting from envelopes day after day, claiming their due in the name of some organization or other. Slithering in. Through newspapers, radio, churches, through this faction or that, until they were all around you, wherever you looked. Whole countries full, bristling with poignant appeals, pleas that seemed more like threats, and not begging now for linen, but for checks to their account. And in time it got worse. Soon you saw them on television, hordes of them, churning up, dying by the thousands, and nameless butchery became a feature, a continuous show, with its masters of ceremonies and its full-time hucksters. The poor had overrun the earth. Self-reproach was the order of the day; happiness, a sign of decadence. Any pleasure? Beneath discussion. Even in Monsieur Calgues’s own village, if you did try to give some good linen away, they would just think you were beingcondescending. No, charity couldn’t allay your guilt. It could only make you feel meaner and more ashamed. And so, on that day he remembered so well, the professor had shut up his cupboards and chests, his cellar and larder, closed them once and for all to the outside world. The very same day that the last pope had sold out the Vatican. Treasures, library, paintings, frescoes, tiara, furniture, statues—yes, the pontiff had sold it all, as Christendom cheered, and the most high-strung among them, caught up in the contagion, had wondered if they shouldn’t go do likewise, and turn into paupers as well. Useless heroics in the eternal scheme of things. He had thrown it all into a bottomless pit: it didn’t take care of so much as the rural budget of Pakistan for a single year! Morally, he had only proved how rich he really was, like some maharaja dispossessed by official decree. The Third World was quick to throw it up to him, and in no time at all he had fallen from grace. From that moment on, His Holiness had rattled around in a shabby, deserted palace, stripped to the walls by his own design. And he died, at length, in his empty chambers, in a plain iron bed, between a kitchen table and three wicker chairs, like any simple priest from the outskirts of town. Too bad, no crucifixion on demand before an assembled throng. The new pope had been elected at about the time Monsieur Calgues retired. One man, wistfully taking his place on the Vatican’s throne of straw. The other one, back in his village to stay, with only one thought: to enjoy to the fullest his earthly possessions, here in the setting that suited him best … So thank God for the tender ham, and the fragrant bread, and the lightly chilled wine! And let’s drink to the bygone world, and to those who can still feel at home in it all!

While the old man sat there, eating and drinking, savoring swallow after swallow, he set his eyes wandering over the spacious room. A time-consuming task, since his glance stopped to linger on everything it touched, and since every confrontation was a new act of love. Now and then his eyes would fill with tears, but they were tears of joy. Each object in this house proclaimed the dignity of those who had lived here—their discretion, their propriety, their reserve, their taste for those solid traditions that one generation can pass on to the next, so long as it still takes pride in itself. And the old man’s soul was in everything, too. In the fine old bindings, the rustic benches, the Virgin carved in wood, the big cane chairs, the hexagonal tiles, the beams in the ceiling, the ivory crucifix with its sprig of dried boxwood, and a hundred other things as well … It’s man’s things that really define him, far more than the play of ideas; which is why the Western World had come to lose its self-respect, and why it was clogging the highways at that very moment, fleeing north in droves, no doubt vaguely aware that it was already doomed, done in by its over-secretion, as it were, of ugly monstrosities no longer worth defending. Could that, perhaps, have been one explanation? …

At eleven o’clock that night an announcer on the national chain read a new communiqué:

“Government sources note with some dismay the mass exodus of population currently under way throughout the south. While they view this movement with concern, they do not feel justified in advising against it, given the unprecedented nature of the situation. Army and police have been put on maximum alert to help maintain order, and tosee to it that the migration does not interfere with the flow of essential military materiel en route from the north. A state of emergency has been declared in the four departments bordering the coast, under the command of the undersecretary, Monsieur Jean Perret, personal representative of the President of the Republic. The army will make every effort to protect all property left behind, insofar as its other duties permit. Government sources confirm that the President of the Republic will address the nation at midnight, tonight, with a message of grave concern …”

And again, that was all. In a world long exposed to verbal frenzy, such terseness was most impressive. “Do windbags always die without a word?” the professor mused. Then he picked out a book, poured himself a drink, lit up his pipe, and waited for midnight …

Four

It was a curious night for New York, more calm and peaceful than the city had been in well over thirty years. Central Park stood deserted, drained of its thousands of Cams on the prowl. Little girls could have gone there to play, pert towheads, soft and pink in tiny skirts, delighted that, finally, they could romp through its grass. The black and Puerto Rican ghettos were quiet as churches …

Dr. Norman Hailer had opened his windows. He was listening to the city, but there wasn’t a sound. It was that time of night when he would always hear the dreadful notes of what he called the “infernal symphony” rising up from the street below: the cries for help; the click-clack of running heels; the frantic screams; the gunshots, one by one, or in bursts; the wail of police cars; the savage, less-than-human howls; the whimpering children; the vicious laughter; the shatter of glass; the horns of distress as some Cadillac, sleek and air-conditioned, would stop for a light and find itself buried in a sea of black silhouettes, brandishing picks; and then the shouts of no! no! no!, those desperate shouts shrieked into the darkness and suddenly stilled, snuffed out by a knife, a razor, a chain, by a club full of spikes, by a pounding fist, or fingers, or phallus …

It had been that way for thirty years. Statistics in sound, and each year louder than the one before. That is, until those last few days, when the graph had taken a sudden plunge, down to an unheard-of zero on the night in question. Thirty years for Dr. Norman Haller! Frustrating years, through no fault of his own. As consulting sociologist to the city of New York, he had seen it coming, predicted it to the letter. The proof was there, in his lucid reports, ignored one and all. There was really no solution. Black would be black, and white would be white. There was no changing either, except by a total mix, a blend into tan. They were enemies on sight, and their hatred and scorn only grew as they came to know each other better. Now they both felt the same utter loathing. … And so the consulting sociologist would give his opinion and pocket his money. The city had paid him a handsome price for his monumental study of social upheaval, with its forecast of ultimate doom. “No hope, Doctor Hailer?” “No hope, Mr. Mayor. Unless you kill them all, that is, because you’ll never change them. How about that?” “Good God, man, hardly! Let’s just wait and see what happens, and try to do the best we can …

Plush as could be, that suite of Dr. Norman Hailer’s, on the twenty- sixth floor of Central Park’s most elegant apartment building. Protected from the jungle, cut off from the outside world, with its dozen armed guards in the lobby, electronic sensors in every corner, invisible rays, and alarms, and attack dogs. And the garage, like a kind of hermetic chamber. Drawbridge between life and death, between love and hate. Ivory tower, moon base, bunker de luxe. At quite a price. Thousands and thousands of dollars for a few hundred pages, written for the city of New York by the pen of America’s most eminent consulting sociologist. Dr. Norman Haller had built himself a perfect world in the eye of the cyclone, and through that eye he could watch the storm that would sweep it all away. … Whiskey, crushed ice, soft music Go on, darling, go put on that nice expensive little thing you call a dress A telephone call. The mayor of New York.

“Don’t tell me, Jack, let me guess. You’re sitting there, all dressed up. You in your tux, Betty in a gown. Almost takes your breath away, she looks so good. Never better … On your third drink, I’d say … Fancy glasses … Just the two of you, nice and cozy … No special reason … Spur of the moment … Right?”

“Exactly! But how on earth.

“Look. The old familiar jungle shuts up tight. The white man gets scared. What else can he do? One last fling for his white prestige. One final tribute to his useless millions, to his precious position above it all! So here’s to you, Jack! Hear the tinkle? Hear the ice in my glass? My most expensive crystal. Scotch at a hundred bucks a throw! And my wife’s eyes … Never been greener! … So green, I’m going to jump in and drown .

“Listen, Norman. It’s all up to the French now, right? Do you really think they can kill off a million poor, defenseless bastards, just like that? I don’t. And frankly, I hope they can’t tell you something else. The ghettos here in the city don’t think so either. Or in L.A., or Chicago … They may be caged like wildcats, but believe me, they’re quiet as lambs. Calm as can be. They just sit at their radios and listen to the news. That is, when they’re not in their churches, singing up a storm and praying like crazy for those goddamn ships … Ever been swept off your feet by a herd of stampeding lambs? No, I tell you, Norman, the Third World’s turned into a bunch of lambs, that’s all.”

“And the wolf is tired of being a wolf, is that what you’re saying? Well, do like me, Jack. Have yourself another drink, and run your fingers up and down your wife’s white skin, nice and slow, like something very precious. And wait …”

weather report

69 years ago to the day…

September 1, 1939
by W. H. Auden
 
I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.
 
Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
 
Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.
 
Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.
 
Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.
 
The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.
 
From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
"I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?
 
All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.
 
Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.
from W. H. Auden, Another Time (1940) 

and how the wind blows today…

The Wind Shifts
by Wallace Stevens

This is how the wind shifts:
like the thoughts of an old human
who still think eagerly
and despairingly.
The wind shifts like this:
like a human without illusions,
who still feels irrational things within her.
The wind shifts like this:
like humans approaching proudly,
like humans approaching angrily.
This is how the wind shifts:
like a human, heavy and heavy,
who does not care.

from Wallace Stevens, Harmonium (1917)

we are all patients in the cancer ward & now we’ve lost another person who could show us the way out

aleksandr solzhenitsyn, 1918 – 2008

I first heard of Solzhenitsyn’s death on the radio, sandwiched between stories on Britney Spears’ latest antics and the weekend box office of the latest Batman movie.

'Cancer Ward' - Alexander Solzhenitsyn by letslookupandsmile.

 

At least our facilities have proven to be much, 
much more comfortable than those afforded to 
Homo Sovieticus:
 

 

bellow’s broadside against impersonal modernity

The audacity of Simmel’s task — to understand the cramped and crowded life of modernity’s teeming human millions — is given vigourous expression in Saul Bellow’s masterpiece Herzog, published in 1964:

 

For instance? Well, for instance, what it means to be a man. In a city. In a century. In transition. In a mass. Transformed by science. Under organized power. Subject to tremendous controls. In a condition caused by mechanization. After the late failure of radical hopes. In a society that was no community and devalued the person. Owing to the multiplied power of numbers which made the self negligible. Which spent military billions against foreign enemies but would not pay for order at home. Which permitted savagery and barbarism in its own great cities. At the same time, the pressure of human millions who have discovered what concerted efforts and thoughts can do. As megatons of water shape organisms on the ocean floor. As tides polish stones. As winds hollow cliffs. The beautiful supermachinery opening a new life for innumerable mankind. Would you ask them to labor and go hungry while you yourself enjoyed old-fashioned values? Youyou yourself are a child of this mass and a brother to all the rest. Or else an ingrate, dilettante, idiot. There, Herzog, thought Herzog, since you ask for the instance, is the way it runs.

 

— Saul Bellow, Herzog