Where is Mona?

 

Walking past the tallest edifice in town—having listened to a song and gained from it the kind of exhilaration one feels when thinking a certain gesture is dedicated to them personally, from an important other—she looked at her feet (clean), up the legs (lavender shorts), further up to the torso (sheer fabric). The whole lot of it more worthless than what could be found in her neighbor’s trash.

On the way to the basement, then inside, the sounds earlier coming from the speakers in her room up top now coming out of headphones hugged to his skull, a faint note of it reaching her, now sitting on a couch directly across from him, feet raised over a stool, tiny and strung in by wiry sandals with bad soles. His face framed between them, Ryan’s loud voice blurting some compliment on the side, and all around shimmer of an invisible kind, a result of the dedication now brought nearer, staring it in the face, lifted by the pretense of the elation, creating the very bond needed to support the emotion. The emotion, now the one and true source of its own life, sat in the dark, an ingenious body out of its mind.

And a door was concretely unlocked for her, by his bad use of daytime, so she could lie on another couch and move his vertebra with her eyes from behind as he fiddled with keys—metal ones, computer ones—and she with paper and cloth—a book, a pillow—and then melt into a creature between the two, cloth and paper, a limb hanging on air for him to cover with something of his and slowly introduce him to the softer world of rest and letters (not violently pressed, lushly gazed at, rivers leading to a dream—to the desire for a break). For him to break, for his will to drown in that live river, for him to melt, too, between cloth and paper.

What he summoned was something of the secret night that revealed itself only to the late-looker in front of another’s eyelids as they closed. He captured this in the direct instant the other’s lashes met, and threaded it into his manner so that when she saw him she could not help but detect a figment of something she always almost grasped, but which was as soon stolen—and better so, as she could not capture it, frozen into unconscious paralysis.

Thieving ways that rightly belonged to the one who was rare enough to capture it. If it eluded everyone else’s waking life, he serviced it by not letting it go unknown, unlived. And she, a mere recorder of what he was recording. How many times removed from the context; how very capable of lending word to his deed.

His deed, though, was always in his word, nothing done by him that was not embellished to be retold through a process for which she had no respect, but which she nonetheless revered as we all do alleged mysteries, or those things we can’t ourselves reach and don’t firsthand know.

Writing is excavation into the unspoken. It is then the invention of what she supposes exists. It’s a search for something which she as readily creates. The bringing into being of what can be recovered from passage, revision, transmutation, death. Modified truth being the truest way to speak the vanquished moment.

The sensing of a sort of femininity holed by an acerbic inner chemistry, a self having lost its own essence. The near-tear-jerk as they embraced, the denunciation of his own sensitivity. Small-jawed, tight, bright little effeminate faces: you all torture me so.

 

Dick Diver’s Vague Oppression

At the end of Chapter 4 of Book 2 of Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald packs into two paragraphs what seems to be the same eventuality that awaits two young psychologists of different outlooks and goals, Dick Diver (one of the main characters in the novel) and his friend/colleague Franz Gregorovius. Dick is having dinner with Franz, Franz’s wife and Franz’s dog, overlooking the horizon in Zurich. He sees Franz and in him sees the dullness of a learned man, the boundaries that his profession has put on his person, his life deliberately cut down “to the scale of an inherited suit,” as Fitzgerald puts it. Dick lies in bed and fears that this is what it means to be what he is becoming: to be like Franz and his wife, secure in an asceticism that “lacks grace and adventure.” Fitzgerald writes:

“‘God, am I like the rest after all?’–so [Dick] used to think staring awake at night–‘Am I like the rest?’ This was poor material for a socialist but good material for those who do much of the world’s rarest work. The truth was that for some months he had been going through that partitioning of the things of youth wherein it is decided whether or not to die for what one no longer believes. In the dead white hours in Zurich staring into a stranger’s pantry across the upshine of a streetlamp, he used to think that he wanted to be good, he wanted to be kind, he wanted to be brave and wise, but it was all pretty difficult. He wanted to be loved, too, if he could fit it in.” End of chapter.

And so begins, I think (and will find out as I continue reading), Dick’s journey toward a life not his own.

Re-Reading Nadja

Days have been rejecting the meanings I have been trying to give them, and have been instead giving me their own.

I have been somewhat unreceptive, trying to choke schoolwork on top of schoolwork down their throats.

Two nights ago, they refused to swallow that stew.

Nightly, my vision floats over my books, a way of recognizing their presence, equally there, available if I need them. I rarely pick one out to actually read, unless it’s for school. But thin little Nadja, all the way on the bottom shelf with my stationary, stood out one night. I picked it up—remembered having read it four years ago in Paris. Having forgotten a lot of the details of the book, I remembered having changed as a person after reading it; I had forgotten why it had changed me because I had forgotten these details—and it was the details, not the totality of the work, that had changed me. I set it on my desk, to read later, with a strange understanding that I needed to read it again, soon, though unable to formulate why.

So, two nights ago, when the night would not swallow the school stew, I sat on a newly-furnished nook in my room and ingested Nadja from cover to cover. This is no great accomplishment: it’s a short book, 1/4 of it photos, and 1/3 of the prose background-setting.

I don’t want to bore you with too much information that you can just Wikipedia on your own, but just to contextualize Nadja: it was written by surrealist Andre Breton, and published in France in 1928. The work is the epitome of surrealist fiction, which some living humans cannot tolerate, but which some other humans live for.

Surrealist writing can be off-putting because it’s not very concerned with making sense, or telling you things you want to read in ways that you are comfortable assimilating. It can seem pretentious, or nonsensical, or just a waste of time to the contemporary appointment-keeping busy-bee. But to some (maybe to me) it’s a kind of diaphanous, beguiling poetic philosophy. Surrealist writing does not aim to needlessly manipulate words, but to free their use as much as possible, in ways that are authentic and progressive. By progressive I mean that it pushes the limits of language, as commonly used, to preserve its original purpose and help achieve its primary goals: communication, understanding, meaning. And all this without a rigid plan to find “truth.”

The surrealists developed a writing method called “automatic writing,” which exemplifies the contradiction of gaining the truest insight from the most nonsensical (and in this sense, stream-of-consciousness) musings. They were very fascinated with Freud and the developments of psychology at the time, claiming that automatic writing was a way of tapping into the subconscious. As far as I know, Freud wasn’t very taken by the surrealists, let alone give them any credibility in the field of psychology. But that’s besides the point: Nadja is certainly not meant to serve as therapy (quite the contrary, actually). It is supposed to be, as I think all surrealist writing is, a potentially unsettling experience. Don’t try to get anything out of it except for what it leaves you with. As a matter of fact, because it does not matter, I will not even give you the plot. What matters to me is the fact that I read this book now, and the details. The details matter.

The details I speak of are the perfectly lucid truths that are speckled throughout the work, the bulk of which is a basement of ponderings. The experience of reading Nadja can be like stumbling around blindfolded, and then hitting your knee upon something that is it! You aren’t looking for “it”s, you’re just trying to see, but you find the “it”s and, blindfolded, realize you can only find them as you are there, blindfolded. You become aware that the “it”s are not to be found in your old reliable ways: they wouldn’t strike you the same way if you could see and were looking for them. You would perhaps dodge them if you could see, walking where the path is clear and the exit in view.

I shouldn’t be plucking out the “it”s from the work as I am about to do, but they’re mine now and, at the risk of sloganizing Breton, maybe I can vaguely frame the “plot” through three poetic passages:

  1. “But that is the way of the world, isn’t it, the outer world, that is—a matter of sleep-walking. That is the kind of weather it is, I wouldn’t put a dog out in weather like this.”
  2. “I have seen her fern-colored eyes open mornings on a world where the beating of hope’s great wings is scarcely distinct from the other sounds which are those of terror and, upon such a world, I had as yet seen eyes do nothing but close.”
  3. “It is by an extreme capacity for defiance that certain unusual people who have everything to hope and everything to fear from one another will always recognize one another.” (This is the best one, and it’s in a footnote).

Where to Now?

An attempt at poetic fiction. 

There are years of words to be inserted in this slot.

The nights when you came into my room to fiddle with the typewriter and casually forgot your beverage on one of the book shelves.

When you would sit on that chair in the yellow room, in a furious quiescence, I knew that you were waiting for something or someone to arrive: X, or practice, or a text message, or Y, or Z.

The one night we were in the car, just the two of us. Without provocation, you began to talk about how you didn’t think it ideal to live with X, but that it was the best practical solution. You were talking a lot that night, I soon started hoping you would stop so that I could turn up the radio.

One day, you sent me an email saying that Y will be visiting, and that you offered for her to stay at your place. You asked me how I felt about it, but after you had already decided what you would do. I may have cared more if I wasn’t at the time visiting Z and fully absorbed in that.

Knowing what to anticipate, you said that I am too analytical, and said it like it’s a bad thing. It makes you uncomfortable you told me, and I knew you were telling the truth because you became florid as you said it, your eyeballs moistening with sensitivity.

Do you still close your eyes when speaking, or look in a sideways direction? Eye contact was too intense of a commitment, wasn’t it? Sometimes, it was easy to look at your face; other times, there was something about it that bothered me, like an invisible veil in front, or like it was hiding behind four secret doors.

Your skin was softer than mine—arms and legs thinner, too. I remember feeling your forearms and the texture that the surface veins gave to them. I also remember eating your yogurt for breakfast every time I spent the night. I’m sure this was fine—you could have had whatever you wanted of mine.

So you took a cigarette out of the pack in my mailbox and replaced it with a rolled-up dollar bill. Having not asked permission, you told me after the fact. I didn’t care much about this, but I cared about the fact that you knew I wouldn’t care. Intimidation didn’t work for you, at least not in front of me and as far as I could tell.

The second to last time I saw you, I was walking from the shop to my car and you were talking with Y in some corner of the parking lot. I could tell you liked her when, after sex one night, you started to ask me what I thought of her (this because you were trying to figure out if I like women. I don’t think that I do).

Before I left, we had the idea of starting a gossip magazine. That was the most complete conversation we have had to date. But the magazine never came to fruition, and I haven’t spoken to you about it since the night you sprayed me with a water gun of scalding water, then offered a pair of dainty leather gloves as an apology.

I’m sad to have lost those gloves.