neurosis – creation – proust


Everything great in the world comes from neurotics. They alone have founded our religions, and composed our masterpieces. Never will the world know all it owes to them, nor all they have suffered to enrich us.

– Marcel Proust

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proust on memory and the image: the last lines of swann’s way

Image:Grave of Proust.jpg

When Proust ran out of time.

The places we have known do not belong only to the world of space on which we map them for our own convenience. They were only a thin slice, held between the contiguous impressions that composed our life at that time; the memory of a particular image is but regret for a particular moment; and houses, roads, avenues are as fugitive, alas, as the years.


—Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way (1913; translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin).

proust on memory and the image: the last lines of swann’s way

When Proust ran out of time.

The places we have known do not belong only to the world of space on which we map them for our own convenience. They were only a thin slice, held between the contiguous impressions that composed our life at that time; the memory of a particular image is but regret for a particular moment; and houses, roads, avenues are as fugitive, alas, as the years.

 

—Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way (1913; translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin).

 
 

james merrill’s ouija board: the opening of the book of ephraim

Known in popular circles as “the Ouija poet”—one who composed with assistance from the spirit world—Merrill was always most popular with scholarly audiences. As Brigitte Weeks noted in the New York Times Book Review, “Mr. Merrill’s artistic distinction is for the most part acknowledged, particularly in the academy, where he has already become part of the permanent canon. With his technical virtuosity and his metaphysical broodings, he is, like Wallace Stevens, an ideal seminar poet whose complex work lends itself to exhaustive explication.” . . . 

It was “The Book of Ephraim”—which appeared in Divine Comedies—that prompted many critics to reevaluate the poet. Among them was Harold Bloom, who wrote in the New Republic, “James Merrill . . . has convinced many discerning readers of a greatness, or something like it, in his first six volumes of verse, but until this year I remained a stubborn holdout. The publication of Divine Comedies . . . converts me, absolutely if belatedly, to Merrill. . . . The book’s eight shorter poems surpass nearly all the earlier Merrill, but its apocalypse (a lesser word won’t do) is a 100-page verse-tale, ‘The Book of Ephraim,’ an occult splendor in which Merrill rivals Yeats’ ‘A Vision,’. . . and even some aspects of Proust.” . . .

The twenty-six sections of “The Book of Ephraim” correspond to the board’s A to Z alphabet, the ten sections of Mirabell: Books of Number correspond to the board’s numbering from zero to nine, and the three sections of Scripts for the Pageant (“Yes,” “&,” and “No”) correspond to the board’s Yes & No. The progression of poems also represents a kind of celestial hierarchy, with each book representing communication with a higher order of spirits than the one before. Humans in the poem are identified by their initials—DJ and JM; spirits speak in all capitals. By the time Merrill transcribed the lessons of the archangels in book three, he offered nothing less than a model of the universe. “Were such information conveyed to us by a carnival ‘spiritual adviser,’ we could dismiss it as mere nonsense,” observed Fred Moramarco in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, “but as it comes from a poet of Merrill’s extraordinary poetic and intellectual gifts, we sit up and take notice.”  

In the first book, Merrill’s guide is Ephraim, “a Greek Jew / Born AD 8 at XANTHOS,” later identified as “Our Familiar Spirit.” Over a period of twenty years and in a variety of settings, Ephraim alerts DJ and JM to certain cosmic truths, including the fact that “on Earth / We’re each the REPRESENTATIVE of a PATRON” who guides our souls through the nine stages of being until we become patrons for other souls. Witty, refined, full of gossip, Ephraim is “a clear cousin to Merrill’s poetic voice,” Kalstone wrote in the Times Literary Supplement 

Other spirits also appear in the poem, many of them family members or old friends who have died: Merrill’s mother and father, the young poet Hans Lodeizen (whose death Merrill addressed in The Country of a Thousand Years of Peace), the Athenian Maria Mitsotaki (a green-thumbed gardener who died of cancer), as well as literary figures such as W. H. Auden and Plato. They form a community, according to Ephraim, “WITHIN SIGHT OF ALL CONNECTED TO EACH OTHER DEAD OR ALIVE NOW DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT HEAVEN IS IT IS THE SURROUND OF THE LIVING.” As Helen Vendler explained in the New York Review of Books, “The host receives his visible and invisible guests, convinced that . . . the poet’s paradise is nothing other than all those beings whom he has known and has imagined.” For this reason, Vendler maintained that “The Book of Ephraim” is “centrally a hymn to history and a meditation on memory—personal history and personal memory, which are, for this poet at least, the muse’s materials.”  

Aware of the incredulity his spiritualism would provoke, Merrill addressed this issue early in book one: “The question / Of who or what we took Ephraim to be / And of what truths (if any) we considered / Him spokesman, had arisen from the start.” Indeed, Vendler said, “for rationalists reading the poem, Merrill includes a good deal of self-protective irony, even incorporating in the tale a visit to his ex-shrink, who proclaims the evocation of Ephraim and the other Ouija ‘guests’ from the other world a folie a deux [mutual madness] between Merrill and his friend David Jackson.” 

In a Poetry review, Joseph Parisi suggested that Merrill used “his own doubt and hesitation to undercut and simultaneously to underscore his seriousness in recounting . . . his fabulous . . . message. Anticipating the incredulity of ‘sophisticated’ and even cynical readers, the poet portrays his own apparent skepticism at these tales from the spirit world to preempt and disarm the attacks, while making the reader feel he is learning the quasi-occult truths . . . along with the poet.” 

As the experience proceeded, Merrill’s skepticism declined. And while the reader’s may not, Judith Moffett suggested in American Poetry Review that disbelief is not the issue: “Surely any literary work ought to be judged not on its matter but on the way the matter is presented and treated. . . . The critical question, then, should not be, Is this the story he ought to have told? but How well has he told this story?” Moffett, as well as numerous other critics, believed Merrill has told it very well: “‘The Book of Ephraim’ is a genuinely great poem—a phrase no one should use lightly—and very possibly the most impressive poetic endeavor in English in this century.” 

—from the James Merrill page at Poetry Foundation

 

 
 

 

THE BOOK OF EPHRAIM

 

 

Tu credi ‘l vero; ché i minori e ‘ grandi 

                                                                   di questa vita miran ne lo speglio 

in che, prima che pensi, il pensier pandi. 

Paradiso XV 


Admittedly I err by undertaking

This in its present form. The baldest prose

Reportage was called for, that would reach

The widest public in the shortest time.

Time, it had transpired, was of the essence.

Time, the very attar of the Rose,

Was running out. We, though, were ancient foes,

I and the deadline. Also my subject matter

Gave me pause–so intimate, so novel.

Best after all to do it as a novel?

Looking about me, I found characters

Human and otherwise (if the distinction

Meant anything in fiction). Saw my way

To a plot, or as much of one as still allowed

For surprise and pleasure in its working-out.

Knew my setting; and had, from the start, a theme

Whose steady light shone back, it seemed, from every

Least detail exposed to it. I came

To see it as an old, exalted one:

The incarnation and withdrawal of

A god. That last phrase is Northrop Frye’s.

I had stylistic hopes moreover. Fed

Up so long and variously by

Our age’s fancy narrative concoctions,

I yearned for the kind of unseasoned telling found

In legends, fairy tales, a tone licked clean

Over the centuries by mild old tongues,

Grandam to cub, serene, anonymous.

Lacking that voice, the in its fashion brilliant

Nouveau roman (even the one I wrote)

Struck me as an orphaned form, whose followers,

Suckled by Woolf not Mann, had stories told them

In childhood, if at all, by adults whom

They could not love or honor. So my narrative

Wanted to be limpid, unfragmented; 

My characters, conventional stock figures

Afflicted to a minimal degree

With personality and past experience–

A witch, a hermit, innocent young lovers,

The kinds of being we recall from Grimm, 

Jung, Verdi, and the commedia dell’ arte. 

That such a project was beyond me merely

Incited further futile stabs at it.

My downfall was “word-painting.” Exquisite

Peek-a-boo plumage, limbs aflush from sheer

Bombast unfurling through the troposphere

Whose earthward denizens’ implosion startles

Silly quite a little crowd of mortals

–My readers, I presumed from where I sat

In the angelic secretariat.

The more I struggled to be plain, the more

Mannerism hobbled me. What for?

Since it had never truly fit, why wear

The shoe of prose? In verse the feet went bare.

Measures, furthermore, had been defined

As what emergency required. Blind

Promptings put at last the whole mistaken

Enterprise to sleep in darkest Macon 

(Cf. “The Will”), and I alone was left

To tell my story. For it seemed that Time— 

­The grizzled washer of his hands appearing

To say so in a spectrum-bezeled space

Above hot water–Time would not;

Whether because it was running out like water

Or because January draws this bright

Line down the new page I take to write:

The Book of a Thousand and One Evenings

Spent With David Jackson at the Ouija Board

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Touch with Ephraim Our Familiar Spirit.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Backdrop: The dining room at Stonington.

 

Walls of ready-mixed matte “flame” (a witty

Shade, now watermelon, now sunburn).

Overhead, a turn of the century dome

Expressing white tin wreathes and fleurs-de-lys

In palpable relief to candlelight.

Wallace Stevens, with that dislocated

Perspective of the newly dead, would take it

For an alcove in the Baptist church next door

Whose moonlit tower saw eye to eye with us.

The room breathed sheer white curtains out. In blew

Elm- and chimney-blotted shimmerings, so

Slight the tongue of land, so high the point of view.

1955 this would have been,

Second summer of our tenancy.

Another year we’d buy the old eyesore

Half of whose top story we now rented;

Build, above that, a glass room off a wooden

Stardeck; put a fireplace in; make friends.

Now, strangers to the village, did we even

Have a telephone? Who needed one!

We had each other for communication

And all the rest. The stage was set for Ephraim.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Properties : A milk glass tabletop.

 

A blue-and-white cup from the Five & Ten.

Pencil, paper. Heavy cardboard sheet

Over which the letters A to Z

Spread in an arc, our covenant

With whom it would concern; also

The Arabic numerals, and YES and NO.

What more could a familiar spirit want?

Well, when he knew us better, he’d suggest

We prop a mirror in the facing chair.

Erect and gleaming, silver-hearted guest,

We saw each other in it. He saw us.

(Any reflecting surface worked for him.

Noons, D and I might row to a sandbar

Far enough from town for swimming naked

Then pacing the glass treadmill hardly wet

That healed itself perpetually of us—

Unobserved, unheard we thought, until

The night he praised our bodies and our wit,

Our blushes in a twinkling overcome.)

Or we could please him by swirling a drop of rum

Inside the cup that, overturned and seeming

Slightly to lurch at such times in mid-glide,

Took heart from us, dictation from our guide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But he had not yet found us. Who was there?

 

The cup twitched in its sleep. “Is someone there?”

We whispered, fingers light on Willowware,

When the thing moved. Our breathing stopped. The cup,

Glazed zombie of itself, was on the prowl

Moving, but dully, incoherently,

Possessed, as we should soon enough be told,

By one or another of the myriads

Who hardly understand, through the compulsive

Reliving of their deaths, that they have died

–By fire in this case, when a warehouse burned.

HELLP O SAV ME scrawled the cup

As on the very wall flame rippled up,

Hypnotic wave on wave, a lullaby

Of awfulness. I slumped. D: One more try.

Was anybody there? As when a pike

Strikes, and the line singing writes in lakeflesh

Highstrung runes, and reel spins and mind reels

YES a new and urgent power YES

Seized the cup. It swerved, clung, hesitated,

Darted off, a devil’s darning needle

Gyroscope our fingers rode bareback

(But stopping dead the instant one lost touch)

Here, there, swift handle pointing, letter upon

Letter taken down blind by my free hand—

At best so clumsily, those early sessions

Break off into guesswork, paraphrase.

Too much went whizzing past. We were too nice

To pause, divide the alphabetical

Gibberish into words and sentences.

Yet even the most fragmentary message—

Twice as entertaining, twice as wise

As either of its mediums–enthralled them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“we never experience an affect for the first time; every affect contains within it an archive of its previous objects.”

 

Is dwelling on loss not necessarily depressing?  Jonathan Flatley argues that embracing melancholy can be a road back to connecting with others and enable you to productively remap your relationship to the world. Aesthetic activity can give one the means to comprehend and change one’s relation to loss.

Flatley’s argument shares with Freud an interest in understanding the depressing effects of difficult loss and with Walter Benjamin the hope that loss itself can become a means of connection and the basis for social transformation. The affective maps artists like Henry James produce can make possible the conversion of a depressive melancholia into a way to be interested in the world (cribbed from Flatley’s publisher).

Affective Mapping

 

The decisively new ferment that enters the taedium vitae and turns it into spleen is self-estrangement.

 

—Walter Benjamin, Central Park

 

In his influential 1960 book The Image of the City, Kevin Lynch explored the ways residents internalize maps of their cities. These cogninitive maps give one a sense of location and direction, and enable one to make decisions about where one wants to go and how to get there.1 A later scholar helpfully defined cognitive mapping as “a process composed of a series of psychological transformations by which an individual acquires, stores, recalls and decodes information about the relative locations and attributes of the phenomena in his everyday spatial environment.”2 Lynch studied three different cities—Boston, Los Angeles, and Jersey City—and found that some cities are more “legible” to their residents than others. That is, “the ease with which [the city’s] parts can be recognized and can be organized into a coherent pattern” varies from city to city.3 In a nongrid city like Boston, with notable points of reference like the Charles River, Boston Common, and Boston Harbor, residents were quite able to assemble usable cognitive maps of the city through repetitive experience of it. Jersey City, on the other hand, organized by an incomplete grid, was found to be more undifferentiated and thus less legible. Many of its residents, Lynch found, had only fragmented or partial images of the city. Since an image of the total system in which one is located is of course a crucial element in establishing one’s confidence in one’s ability to live in the world—see friends, get to the hospital, buy groceries, go out to dinner, arrive at the train station on time—the lack of such an ability can produce a sense of anxiety and alienation.

 

In his essay “Cognitive Mapping,” Fredric Jameson expanded the use of the term to suggest that just as one needs a cognitive map of city space in order to have a sense of agency there, one requires a cognitive map of social space for a sense of agency in the world more generally.4 Such a map’s function is “to enable a situational representation on the part of the individual subject to that vaster and properly unrepresentable totality which is the ensemble of society’s structures as a whole.”5 In other words, in its negotiation of the gap between local subjective experience and a vision of an overall environment, the cognitive map is an apt figure for one of the functions of ideology, which is, in Althusser’s now classic formulation, “the representation of the subject’s imaginary relationship to his or her real conditions of existence.”6 We all need such representations, no matter how imaginary, in order to make sense and move through our everyday lives. By the same token, “the incapacity to map socially is as crippling to political experience as the analogous incapacity to map spatially is for urban experience.”7

 

The difference with the social map is that where the totality of Boston is quite representable, the “totality which is the ensemble of society’s structures as a whole,” conversely, is not. And the socioeconomic systems we all must negotiate on a daily basis are becoming ever less representable.8  Increasingly, Jameson argues, the distance between the structures that order everyday life and the phenomenology and datum of that life itself have become unbridgeable.9 Cognitive mapping in this context would be an essential part of “a pedagogical political culture which seeks to endow the individual subject with some new heightened sense of its place in the global system.”10 Without such a picture insights remain partial and fragmented; we remain mired in the logic of the system as it exists.

 

*

 

So then what is this thing I have been calling affective mapping? In the context of geography and environmental psychology, the term affective mapping has been used to indicate the affective aspects of the maps that guide us, in conjunction with our cognitive maps, through our spatial environment.11 That is, we develop our sense of our environments through purposive activity in the world, and we always bring with us a range of intentions, beliefs, desires, moods, and affective attachments to this activity. Hence our spatial environments are inevitably imbued with the feelings we have about the places we are going, the things that happen to us along the way, and the people we meet, and these emotional valences, of course, affect how we create itineraries. For instance, I live in downtown Detroit, and when I am in the suburbs around Detroit, I often get the sense that some people in the suburbs who have not crossed over the city limits for years carry around with them a map on which Detroit is a large, hazily defined space, but a space clearly marked by some mixture of fear, anxiety, sorrow, and nostalgia. They avoid Detroit not because of poor urban planning or a lack of landmarks but because of the emotions they have associated with the city space of Detroit.

 

Thus, by way of analogy, I would suggest that social maps are also marked with various affective values. To return to the example regarding the suburban resident who avoids Detroit, this is an affective map of social space as well, in a way that parallels ideology. For in all likelihood the person from the suburbs of whom I write is white, and Detroit is largely African American, and this split is of course overwritten by a class divide, so emotions about Detroit as a space are, for these suburban residents, inevitably also emotions about class and “race” and racism. In short, it is not just ideologies or cognitive maps that shape our behavior and practices in the world but also the affects we have about the relevant social structures of our world. The term affective map in this sense is meant to indicate the pictures we all carry around with us on which are recorded the affective values of the various sites and situations that constitute our social worlds.

 

I should perhaps reemphasize here that “map” is meant in a particular, metaphorical sense, a metaphorics that I hope does not too seriously limit the concept. The affective map, like Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizomatic map, is neither fixed nor stable: “The rhizome refers to a map that must be produced or constructed, is always detachable, connectable, reversable, and modifiable, with multiple entrances and exits, with its lines of flight. The tracings are what must be transferred onto the maps and not the reverse.”12 Such maps must be able to incorporate new information as one has new experiences in new environments; but this does not mean they are entirely self-invented. Rather the maps are cobbled together in processes of accretion and palimpsestic rewriting from other persons’ maps, first of all those defined in infancy by one’s parents, and later the maps that come to one by way of one’s historical context and the social formations one lives in. 

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credos: proust, eliot, blake, mccarthy

 

the method: t.s. eliot, “these fragments I have shored against my ruins . . .”  

 

One must never miss an opportunity of quoting things by others which are always more interesting than those one thinks up oneself.

— Marcel Proust, Selected Letters

  

  

 

the motive: william blake, “the marriage of heaven and hell”  

 

The judge wrote on and then he folded the ledger shut and laid it to one side and pressed his hands together and passed them down over his nose and mouth and placed them palm down on his knees. 

 

Whatever exists, he said. Whateverin creation exists without my knowledge exists without my consent. 

 

He looked about at the dark forest in which they were bivouacked. He nodded toward the specimens he’d collected. These anonymous creatures, he said, may seem little or nothing in the world. Yet the smallest crumb can devour us. Any smallest thing beneath yon rock out of men’s knowing. Only nature can enslave man and only when the existence of each last entity is routed out and made to stand naked before him will he be properly suzerain of the earth. 

 

What’s a suzerain?

 

A keeper. A keeper or overlord.

 

Why not say keeper then?

 

Because he is a special kind of keeper. A suzerain rules even where there are other rulers. His authority countermands local judgements.

 

Toadvine spat.

 

The judge placed his hands on the ground. He looked at his inquisitor. This is my claim, he said. And yet everywhere upon it are pockets of autonomous life. Autonomous. In order for it to be mine nothing must be permitted to occur upon it save by my dispensation.

 

Toadvine sat with his boots crossed before the fire. No man can aquaint himself with everything on this earth, he said.

 

The judge tilted his great head. The man who believes that the secrets of the world are forever hidden lives in mystery and fear. Superstition will drag him down. The rain will erode the deeds of his life. But that man who sets himself the task of singling out the thread of order from the tapestry will by the decision alone have taken charge of the world and it is only by such taking charge that he will effect a way to dictate the terms of his own fate.

 

I don’t see what that has to do with catchin birds.

 

The freedom of birds is an insult to me. I’d have them all in zoos.

 

That would be a hell of a zoo.

 

The judge smiled. Yes, he said. Even so.

 

—Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian, or The Evening Redness in the West

 

nadine gordimer’s homage to kafka

“But what happens if something from a fiction is not interiorised, but materialises? Takes on independent existence?
         It has just happened to me. Every year I re-read some of the books I don’t want to die without having read again. This year one of these is Kafka’s Diaries, and I am about half-way through. It’s night-time reading of a wonderfully harrowing sort.”

c19425 

Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black

by

Nadine Gordimer

 

 

 

 

“Gregor”
By Nadine Gordimer

 

ANYONE who is a reader knows that what you have read has

influenced your life. By ‘reader’ I mean one from the time you

began to pick out the printed words, for yourself, in the

bedtime story. (Another presumption: you became literate in

some era before the bedtime story was replaced by the

half-hour before the Box.) Adolescence is the crucial period

when the poet and the fiction writer intervene in formation of

the sense of self in sexual relation to others, suggesting—

excitingly, sometimes scarily—that what adult authority has

told or implied is the order of such relations, is not all. Back in

the Forties, I was given to understand: first, you will meet a

man, both will fall in love, and you will marry; there is an order

of emotions that goes with this packaged process. That is what

love is.

 

For me, who came along first was Marcel Proust. The strange but
 
ineluctable disorder of Charles Swann’s agonising

love for a woman who wasn’t his type (and this really no fault

of her own, he fell in love with her as what she was, eh?); the

jealousy of the Narrator tormentedly following a trail of

 

Albertine’s evasions.

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

Swept away was the confetti. I now had different expecta-

tions of what experience might have to take on. My appren-

ticeship to sexual love changed; for life. Like it or not, this is

 

what love is. Terrible. Glorious.

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

But what happens if something from a fiction is not

interiorised, but materialises? Takes on independent existence?


It has just happened to me. Every year I re-read some of the

books I don’t want to die without having read again. This year

one of these is Kafka’s Diaries, and I am about half-way

through. It’s night-time reading of a wonderfully harrowing

sort.


A few mornings ago when I sat down at this typewriter as I

do now, not waiting for Lorca’s duende but getting to work, I

saw under the narrow strip of window which displays words

electronically as I convey them, a roach. A smallish roach about

the size and roach-shape of the nail of my third finger—

medium-sized hand. To tell that I couldn’t believe it is under-

statement. But my immediate thought was practical: it was

undoubtedly there, how did it get in. I tapped the glass at the

place beneath which it appeared. It confirmed its existence, not

by moving the body but wavering this way and that two

whiskers, antennae so thin and pale I had not discerned them.


I proceeded to lift whatever parts of the machine are acces-

sible, but the strip of narrow glass display was not. I consulted

the User’s Manual; it did not recognise the eventuality of a

cockroach penetrating the sealed refuge meant for words only.

I could find no way the thing could have entered, but reasoned

that if it had, shiny acorn-brown back, fine-traced antennae, it

could leave again at will. Its own or mine. I tapped again over-

head on the glass, and now it sidled—which meant, ah, that it

was cramped under that roof—to the top limit of the space

available. This also revealed bandy black legs like punctuation

marks. I called a friend and she reacted simply: It’s impossible.

Can’t be.


Well, it was. I have a neighbour, a young architect, whom I

see head-down under the bonnet, repairing his car at week-

ends; there was no course of action but to wait until he could

be expected to come home that evening. He is a fixer who can

open anything, everything. What to be done in the meantime?

Take up where I left off. Send words stringing shadows across

the body. Indeed, the disturbance might hope to rouse the in-

truder somehow to seek the way to leave.


I am accustomed to being alone when I work. I could not

help seeing that I was not; something was deliberately not

watching me—anyway, I couldn’t make out its eyes—but was

intimately involved with the process by which the imagination

finds record, becomes extant.


It was then I received as I hadn’t heard in this way before;

Can’t be.


Night after night I had been reading Franz Kafka’s diaries,

the subconscious of his fictions, that Max Brod wouldn’t

destroy. So there it all is, the secret genesis of creation. Kafka’s

subconscious was nightly conducting me from consciousness to

the subconscious of sleep.


Had I caused that creature.


Is there another kind of metamorphosis, you don’t wake up

to find yourself transformed into another species, wriggling on

light-brown shiny back and feeling out your space with wispy

sensors, but the imagining of such a being can create one, in-

dependent of any host, physical genesis; or can imagination

summon such a live being to come on out of the woodwork

and manifest itself?


What nonsense. There are no doubt the usual domestic

pests living clandestinely among and nourished by whatever

there is to be nibbled from piles of paper and newspaper cut-

tings. Who else eats the gilt lettering on book jackets? Next

morning he/she/it was still there, no ectoplasm of my imagina-

tion, flattened under the glass and moving, with long intervals

of watchful immobility, a little way laterally or vertically as the

 

machine warmed in use.

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

My neighbour had come and studied the situation, or rather

Gregor’s—I had come to think of the creature that way, never

mind. The young architect found that the array of tools he

owned were too clumsy for the Italian finesse that had gone

into the making of the machine. He would try to borrow a

jewellers tools. Two more days passed and I continued not to

be alone as I wrote. At first I wanted the thing in there to die;

how could it exist without water, food—and air. As the glass

display seemed hermetically sealed, wouldn’t any oxygen

trapped within be exhausted. Even a beetle, a roach, whatever,

must have lungs. Then I began to want it released alive, a

miraculous survivor, example of the will to live evidenced be-

yond its humble size and status in the chain of life. I saw my-

self receiving it from the deliverer and releasing it on some leaf

in the garden. I called the firm from which I had bought the

typewriter two years ago to ask for the visit of a know-how

mechanic and was told they didn’t service obsolete business

machines any more, handled only computers.


He, my creature, didn’t die; when I would pause a moment

to acknowledge him, there under my words, and he was per-

fectly immobile, I would think, he’s gone; that other sense of

‘gone’, not escaped. Then the remaining antenna would sway,

the other had broken off, no doubt in patient efforts to find the

secret exit by which he came in. There were times when he

hid—I had seen him slip into what must be some sliver of

space below where the glass window was flush with its casing.

Or I’d glance up: no, not there; and then he’d appear again. My

young neighbour had warned, I hope it doesn’t lay eggs in

there, but I thought of the prisoner as male—maybe just

because I’m a woman, assuming the conventional partner I’ve

had in intimate situations faced together. On Friday night I

happened to go back into my work-room to fetch a book,

turned on the lamp, and there he was, moving up his inch of

vertical space and then arrested, frustrated that what he seemed

to have forgotten, the way he got in, the way he might get out,

was not found. He looked darkened, flat and shiny beetle-

black, but that aspect was by lamplight.


Saturday mid-morning my young neighbour arrived with

German precision tools arranged like jewellery in a velvet-lined

folder. The tenant of the display window was not to be seen;

tapping on the glass did not bring him up from his usual

hiding-place in that interstice below level of the glass. My

neighbour studied more informedly than I had the com-

ponents of the typewriter as described in Italian, German,

French, Japanese and English in the User’s Manual and set to

work. The machine slowly came apart, resisting with every

minute bolt and screw and the rigidity of plastic that threat-

ened to snap. At last, there was the inner chamber, the glass

display. It would not yield; the inhabitant did not rise into view

despite the disturbance. We halted operations; had he found

his egress, got out; then he might be somewhere in the cavern

of the machine exposed. No sign. My neighbour was not going

to be defeated by the ingenuity of Italian engineering, he tried

this tiny implement and that, managing to unwind the most

minute of pin-head screws and disengage complex clamps.

With one last thumb-pressure the glass lifted. The shallow

cavity beneath, running the width of the machine, was empty.

Where was he who had survived there for five days? Had he

freed himself and was watching from among papers and

newspaper cuttings instead of on a garden leaf. We continued

to search the innards of the typewriter. No sign. Then I ran a

finger tracing the narrow space where certainly he had been,

existed, hadn’t he, and felt a change in the surface under my

skin. Peered close, and there he was.


His own pyre. Somehow consumed himself.


A pinch of dust. One segment of a black leg, hieroglyph to

be decoded.