Original Short Story : NANNA (2009)
短編小説 『ナンナ』 (2009年)
Short Story Copyright © 2011 The Bosa Bosa Review - All Rights Reserved -________________________________________________________________________
Afternoon at the Tate Britain. Ian is sitting on a black leather bench in front of a painting. I recite quietly from Reverdy. Le carton blanc au mur … The white cardboard on the wall--is the oval of an eye--whose eyelid sends out signs … It is closing time, the gallery turns dark, the lights whiten. The pattern of the whole space changes, the air breathes silence, the bench loses its materiality. A voice sends us signals. It’s time. The canvas sends out signs. It’s timeless. The voice gazes, understands and gives up. My mind goes on to enquire into the meaning of a point in time. If time exists, then I am merely sharing with others a point. Does our point have a point? Turner’s painting lays hold of my imagination.
I am sharing the timeless quality of time with Ian. We are sharing the view of an immaterial bench floating on the edge of an imaginative wave. We are sharing the fantasy of it falling from that edge in lines and patterns in all directions throughout the air. We are sharing the consciousness of the cube we are in, and of its slow metamorphosis into an incredible imaginary cubist space. The air seems cut with the scissors, designed in details, meant to be observed unhurriedly. Ian stands up, approaches the canvas as if he was plunging into deep waters and breathes the light in. Then he breathes all colours out. Turner’s Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory) ceases holding.
The voice smiles and invites us to come visit again. River Thames is beautiful tonight, full of dark monsters and well-kept secrets. No, in truth, I adore it. It always supplies me with a great peace of mind. Ian has slid an arm gently about my shoulders, asking me if I remember some of the things Turner’s contemporary critics wrote about the detestable works he dared to create. Yes, I do. It is rather bizarre for me to think even for one second of Turner’s works as detestable absurdities, or nightmares, but cannot argue with the fact that those experts had a point: with his pictures, we are in a region that exists in no quarter of the universe …
Ian has watched the whole BBC collection of Turner documentaries. The presenter expresses himself admirably, flamboyantly, with that impeccable style Oxbridge takes so much pride in. I have no intention to argue whatsoever, Ian is completely right, Simon Schama’s programme is, by all means, a pleasure for the ear. Though I would mention that the programme seems to be lacking something, not style, but rather a greater sophistication of ideas. Ian thinks I am exaggerating, yet my point is quite different. I try to explain to him. Ian grabs me in his arms, opens his eyes widely and awaits my long debate on the subject. I smile and run my fingers through his hair. Do not worry, I shall not give you a long speech. I am not even personalising my thoughts, just briefly comparing. Look, the BBC presenter is a respectable historian, but as a historian he always brings about the historical side of Turner’s works, the Britishness. It is a natural professional tendency. Ian relaxes his amused eyebrows. Now hear what some other guy said about Turner …
We continue hugging each other on the riverbank. The noise of the double-deckers unravels in the air, leaving behind the thread of the story yet to be told. Tired faces are to be seen at their windows. The eyelids are shut, the hands are work-worn. The dice are thrown, the numbers counted, the formulae generalized, the words misspelled, the meanings misunderstood. Britishness is a dream some still obsess about. It is not something particularly British, I am afraid. Personally, I noticed a firm return to national identity and national values almost everywhere in Europe this year. There is nothing wrong with that, I suppose. As long as one does not notice this or that bus, carrying all sort of other dreams, recurrent, disturbing, unfulfilled. I did notice, and the concept became problematic. Whose problem? … Hmmm … I gently touch Ian’s cheek and ask him to take me home. He understands it is inappropriate to talk about Turner and other eternal truths now.
We get on the tube and patiently wait for it to chase the rail tracks in the tunnel all the way home. The railway, unlike a way of thinking, is, metaphorically, a way of railing. Against everything that hurts. Turner’s canvases are left behind, truly broken, sundered by what penetrates them. People go ahead, in a similar state. Broken, sundered, penetrated.
Soo Jin’s workshop at the Slade School of Art. It is my first time here. Soo Jin is my visual artist friend who has decided on the spur of the moment to leave London. She is trading Slade for the Art Institute of Chicago. The workshop looks extremely neat, contrary to my expectations. There is nobody here, so I walk around, curiously observing its strange objects and devices, reading the inspirational warnings on the walls, standing in front of small TV screens, having projected images dancing all over me. The lights turns blue and I see a collage of semi-transparent shapes showing on the screens, fish, water, medication, then the contours of a woman start carving the space, defining it, embracing its resolutions. She has the truthfulness of ice sculpture. The camera focuses on her lips and zooms in. I know you. I know your deepest fears. I am losing, too.
“Hi, I’m Kat. Nice to meet you.”
I turn around, smile and shake hands with Kat, Soo Jin’s best friend.
“Aha!” she says, twinkling at me. “You’re watching that. I hope it didn’t scare you,” Kat utters while opening the window widely. She places her cup of coffee on the stone window sill.
“No, not at all,” I answer. I knew Soo Jin was a big Murakami fan.
“It’s just Soo Jin’s murakaminess, you know,” Kat adds.
“Yes, I thought so. May I see your work?” I ask her.
Kat looks at her laptop, where the screen saver is revealing her colourful world, built on images of young people laughing, celebrating, attending lively concerts and festivals, costume parties, protest marches. For some reason Kat looks temporarily disconcerted. She takes me to an empty white table. She brings two chairs and sits down, chewing on a wooden pencil. Then she starts drawing unclear shapes directly on the table. I take a seat and listen to the light sound of the pencil while allowing my gaze to wander around the room. Kat is wearing a green woolen hat falling on one side, she has deep blue eyes, a glowing complexion and a radiant smile. Yet her gaze seems to betray sheer sadness.
“I’ve got nothing to show you …”
“That’s fine, you don’t have to,” I tell her.
“You see, this year I’ve been travelling a lot in the Third World. I took thousands of pictures of poverty and unfairness, I ate dust, learnt to live with people and lived to learn from them.” Kat’s eyes look straight, piercing the wall with their sharp disappointment.
“I’ve changed. I came back and started working with the material I had gathered, editing the images, filming them, perfecting the visual impact of a very cruel reality. I wanted to raise awareness, to call for change, to help somehow.”
“What happened?” I ask.
“Apart from being awarded two prizes and a 20% discount on all Waterstone’s books? Nothing. For most people, not every other person matters. And I can’t accept this.” Kat smiles bitterly while listening to her own words.
From the doorway, Soo Jin joins our conversation.
“Oh, Kat, cheer up, you’ve spent too much time with me.”
“Well, well, well,” I look at her and smile broadly. Soo Jin continues her mild criticism.
“Kat’s feeling too much these days and started depressing people…CopyKat!” She comes towards us and hugs us in turns.
“Thank you for coming, loser!”
“Oh, come on. Don’t mention it,” I reply amused.
“Still on permanent vacation?”
“Still moving to Chicago?”
“But of course. I’ve made up my mind.” Soo Jin is concentrating on the remote control, she is trying to show me something new.
“I don’t know. Because everyone told me to stay.”
Soo Jin is always on the run. She keeps running away from herself even though there is nothing wrong with her self. Deep inside she is a very joyful character. She keeps condemning her own joy though. I asked her once why the choice of being a self-imposed tragic character.
“I foresee things,” she told me. I did not quite understand what she meant.
“When you know that joy is always followed by pain,” she explained, “you kill the joy, you inhibit it, you become another. You try to get close to your old self but you can’t do it anymore, and it hurts, and it makes you run away. Towards anything that is not you.” Those were her words years ago and the feeling of alienation has probably remained within.
“Right, I found it!” Soo Jin shows me a cheeky grin. “This is the video I wanted to show you.”
“Naturally. We’re going to the pub after this one, I have to give you now a good reason to cry so that your need for laughter gets stronger later. I want to see you laughing with tears. Oh, come on, I’ve been promising to show you my former graduation project for years now.”
“All right, Soo Jin, show me.”
“By the way, it’s called Hurt My Heart: Who Is It; Who Can Tell Me Who I Am?”
Kat, Soo Jin and I are watching the short film. In the background, the sound of a heartbeat pounding away is overlapping the sound of a zooming camera. A blurred character kneels slowly, an angel with black wings replaces the blurred image while imitating its moves. Black wings heartbeat blur zoom Black wings heartbeat blur zoom Black wings heartbeat blur zoom … My thoughts drift away in this incredible space, modern and subtle, rhythmic and solid, fluid and unhampered. I am smiling, laughing, grimacing, scratching, staring absently gloomily wordlessly ahead down out in disbelief in void in horror of life of love of death. Next, the space cracked and began to break up. The world was taken away from me, the divide grew, intensified, escalated then froze. The entire world shut down. Black wings heartbeat blur zoom…
I get a telephone call. I’ve got to run. I cancel the pub session. I’m running, it’s hailing, I’m running, I’m crying, I’m losing …
Somewhere under the rainbow, at present. The rainbow looks dark and dirty. The colours have been withdrawn, nature looks unworthy. I do not remember when the light started shattering into pieces, allowing the darkness to take over, yet my soul must have already been torn apart. I had been having for a while already this tremendously helpless feeling of complete abandonment in the hands of a destiny I had been unaware of. While getting a, perhaps first, glimpse of reality, I realized I was losing everything.
I discovered hiding inside of me this losing stranger, whom I had to get to know, shelter, take care of, help to survive. And the complexity of my own thoughts made vanish the simplicity of the act. I knew how to think, I did not know how to act and the help was left wanting. I arrived at this point by taking a certain way, diverse, complicated, unsold, unspoken, unshattered. It was a way of thinking. But this way ends today.
Today is the 6th of July 2009. Today time had stopped. Time is concrete. Time is so concrete, that my dear Nanna became one with it today. In a space twirling upside down, my self turned inside out. I was tossing in the air the utter sadness of uncountable things, things unbegun, things unsaid, things disappeared. I crooked my gaze, I slapped the cruelty of all limits with the back of my thoughts. The hope of tomorrow became memories, and the thoughts and the roar and the torment of the incomprehensibly real pain of change flooded my mind. The future just passed. Tomorrow will not happen.
Ian locked his arms around me and the mournful sound of helplessness squashed in the space between us. Somehow, a symbolically parallel future has been made possible. Tomorrow actually happened, it happened to me, a tomorrow without her, and so did the day after and the week after and the month after, after I had been left incomplete.
One month later, surrounded by the silence of our room. Ian switched on the second lamp. He tells me that my eyes look tired. I smile, thank him for the light and answer that I shall be spending another half an hour reading. We should really change this light bulb, it always looks just about to burn out. I notice a long shadow stretching itself on the walls, sketch or trace of the fleetingness of my body, attempting to absorb the infinite pleasure of a yet another way of thinking. Perhaps an even more emotional way, this time. Transparencies started flooding my imagination. J’écrivais des silences … I was writing down silences, nights, the unutterable … I turn over the leaf, completely immersed in my book. Ian places the dog-eared History of Hermeneutics on the desk and closes his eyes, meditatively. I smile and continue reading. Je fixais … I was fixating dizziness … How does it feel to write down silences, to fixate dizziness?
While I was investigating into the nature of the unutterable, the dark shadow of my body started getting dizzy and tired of swallowing so much whiteness, tired of scaling off the fresh paint from the wall. Disorganized images started passing in front of my eyes at great speed. There was a strange unity in their chaotic appearance, but I managed to ignore appearances and cast my eyes down the page. Sometimes words make me shiver. I feel I have so much to learn from the past. A past passed without me or passed through me. I feel strangely inspired by the blessed negativity of the nineteenth century, crossing The flowers of evil, cutting through A Season in Hell all the way to The Cursed Poets, drowning into A Throw of the Dice will never abolish Chance, and the reason why this happens, is that the nineteenth century has allowed nothingness and absolute to mingle, to devour each other on the heights of the utmost given: the experience of poetry, the spiritual chase of the self. The self …
The light dimmed and so did the memories of me. Who am I? Have I spent too much time analysing my own self without understanding a single thing? I keep thinking that I have enquired into the meaning of my life to the utmost limits of the beyond unhappiness. I am one of those people who used to have no worries, who used to allow the mystery of their comfortable present to stay mysterious, locked within itself. I had never wondered why life was so kind to me and I had never expected it to stop being so. As soon as life scheduled me for a reality check, I had to wake up, gather the broken fragments of my heart, pack them and leave as an abstract idea lacking all words. I became a reflection of who I wanted to be, I forgot to write, I learnt to analyse, I forgot to dream my dreams and later on, I had to leave again to other places. I was a string of words without ideas.
I am trying to look straight but my gaze bends again, like a wire of sharp zigzags. Oh, Nanna, the world surrounding me like a snake lacks hope and sleep and accomplishments. My space is in recession and so are my prospects. I wish the anxiety was, too. I did listen to you, I stopped applying for unwanted, undreamed of, unworthy careers. But still, who am I? I might not have … I most certainly tried to… Perhaps I did not dare tell you the truth.
I am a graduate become rejected doctoral candidate. Forever prospective. I might be hungry for knowledge, ravenously hungry at times, yet I am lost in the crowded space of this void they call financial, and believe me, I am tired of it, of its cunning ways, as I am tired of my humbleness and of my surrenders. The nicer one is with these academics and potential supervisors, the more outrageous the narratives of humiliation and the ensuing sense of failure. Enough! No more Cher Monsieur le Professeur, what did you think of my research proposal, no more Be patient, shut up and do what you are told or buzz off! I stop being kind to corrupted academics abusing their authority, using the students’ funds for their own well-being. By what right do you shepherd intelligence, and award certificates of spirit? … It is decided, I refuse to be a mysterious non-definition of myself. I object to …
I suddenly notice Ian looking at me with that love only his eyes can make whole and subsequently melt. If there is anyone in this world who does not need instructions to read me, that is him. He does not need instructions to think, either. Ian asks me if I do not want to go out somewhere far. I assume he wants me to forget, but he insists that, on the contrary, he wants me to remember. I try to weigh the choices. As soon as Kat left for Ghana to do charity work, Soo Jin moved to America. At the moment, all other friends are travelling. I confide to Ian that I wish to go to Paris. No, it is not the romanticism of the city that attracts me to Paris this time. This time is different.
One week later, on the train to Paris. We shall be meeting old friends. At Ian’s suggestion, I agreed to let them teach me how to laugh again. The fields are galloping towards us. The unwashed windows make it difficult to see through. I imagine that this must be the company’s policy to make us dream. It is working. Tones and colours shade gradually into each other, creating the dusty perspective of softened outlines and hazy forms. Ian and I decide to have some red wine. We are well equipped, unlike the kind English family sitting on the other side of the aisle. They have purchased their wine on the train, and could not get anything better than the size of baby bottles. Our supermarket graduate savings bottle stands out. One cannot beat that.
We all start savouring our wines. Apparently, today is Charlotte’s eighteenth birthday. She is travelling with mum, dad, grandma and grandpa to celebrate this one special night in Paris. She looks lovely, she talks lovely, and naturally, we wish her all the best. Both parents and grandparents are ceremoniously dressed up in white, their choice of words is impeccable, their sense of humour, exquisite. The grandmother’s enthusiasm is particularly infectious, she had us all cackle with laughter. We enjoy this family’s conversation so much that we forget about the train, the hazy landscape, the cups of red wine shaking in our hands, the fields slanting up to the skyline, the souls fleeting in eternity.
The curve lifts the train on one side, the laughter exhilarates, the red wine jumps from our cups and splashes on the family’s ceremonial white clothes. A look of panic paralyses the laughter. I feel like a Kabuki mask, my eyes are rolling behind a stone-still expression, I cannot find the words to apologise, none of them seems to have escaped the red wine attack, I realise that we have just ruined these lovely people’s party. Taken by surprise, I have no idea what we should do. Charlotte looks mesmerized watching the new red pattern on her grandmother’s two-piece suit. The grandmother stares in bewilderment at her husband, he has got a lovely pattern, too. Her surprised eyebrows show no tension, no nerves. All of a sudden the expression on her face frees itself of any trace of bemusement, and before I got to hear the healthiest laughter ever, she added, Blimey! This has jollied up the party. Tonight we’ll be dining in our unmentionables! Yes, she is definitely infectious.
We arrive in Paris with our bellies in pain. The family promises to look for dry-cleaning, refuses any cash, agrees not to sue but threatens to publish the story. Charlotte’s mother is a writer. Now we are in trouble … If you ask me, that is what I call Britishness. Absolutely adorable people. Ian and I walk slowly towards the exit. The Gare du Nord area looks dark and terrifying, I refuse to go out there. We take the metro first. Guy and Tak will be waiting outside the Bastille station.
Guy is the loveliest Frenchman alive. He has a postdoctoral degree, works in research and daily looks for scientific ways to make our lives better. He lives in Paris, travels regularly around the world to take photographs and dreams of moving to Japan as soon as possible. Tak lives in Athens and day-dreams of Scotland. He is beyond degrees, he actually awards them now--though I heard that he started getting sensitive about undeserving students and has recently made a reputation by failing most of them. But he happens to be one of the funniest people I have ever met. These days they are working on a project together, and we are right in time to interrupt.
Guy’s mansard in Paris. The others are already asleep. I am sitting on a white chair in the middle of the room. The carpet is white, the open curtains dark, that is to keep the early mornings away. The moonlight percolates like oils trapped within cold frames. The shades are soaking into the walls, hampering the creek of photographs to meander gently through the manifested light. I am in a personalised gallery. Suddenly the uniqueness of Guy’s artistic eye flickering across the world reveals itself on the Parisian walls: Osaka’s Escalator Madness and Beppu’s Shiraike Jigoku or Welcome to Hell, the Bamboo of Arashiyama, The Dark Mushroom of Kyushu or where did Miyazaki’s Laputa get inspired from, Orange madness at Fushimi Inari, Airport Delirium at Kansai International … Not all snapshots have been taken in the same place, but most of them show me where Guy’s heart really is. Bridge, Japan. I smile and look out the window across continents.
Since Guy landed at the Kansai ocean airport for the first time in 2005, his heartbeat, along with his camera, has been racing across the country. Japan is the place where the wrinkled sun and sea call off all appointments and finalities, stripping time of its bark. L’éternité … Eternity, sea melted in the light, bringing about the symbols of infernal spaces converging into the Sun’s eye, the Heaven’s only opening, pillar of the worlds drifted apart, summit of the Apparent, Door between potentiality and act, dark and limitless. From a bridge in Japan, Guy’s camera defied the sun, got into its very eye, and made timeless the source of all duration.
Guy is of course, an individual, not a god. One can rapidly figure that out by the way he snores. I smile, cover my ears and turn back to the window where I have a better access to the realm of imagination. True, he might not be a god, but neither was the mythical individual of the Upanişads, placed on the circle of the World Wheel to feel the movements of the sun. And just like this myth, Guy seems to have all risings and settings of the sun taking place within himself, in the space of the heart. I learnt from an Australian expert in Buddhism how Ananda Coomaraswamy famously described these mythical movements.
So I try to recall that and imagine Guy, not the Frenchman, but the individual, placed on the circle of the world wheel, turning away from the centre, proceeding against the turning of the Wheel, facing the East, moving in an outward, extensive and centrifugal spiral, reaching the maximum distance from the centre, facing the South, then again turning about in the deepest seat of consciousness, facing the West, moving in the direction of the Wheel, retracing the spiral in an inward, intensive and centripetal direction … just to see the Sun rising … The photographs go around me like a typhoon and leave me in the eye of the … beholder. Ian?
It is already morning, and Ian seems to have tucked me in hours ago. He cuddles up to me and tells me that Guy is taking him to an exhibition at Centre Pompidou. All right, as I do not feel like getting too intellectual on a Saturday, I decide to sleep some more. I see Tak sharpening a pencil, then continuing to work intensively on some equations. After a few hours, Tak comes to wake me up. “Come on, sleepyhead, let’s go get some fresh air.” We end up going to the bouquinistes, looking at old records, posters and books.
Right bank of the Seine river.
“Which are your favourite spots in Paris?” I ask Tak.
“Oh, I don’t know Paris that well, but I do have a few favourite places. I have come to Paris many times, you know. Mathematical conferences and stuff. So … this is what I discovered during my scientific journeys: the Auditorium at the Louvre--they used to project silent movies there, I don’t know if they still do, Luis Buñuel films de-silenced by the Ensemble Intercontemporain, that was breath-taking. Then, let’s see, the Mogador Theatre--they have some pretty good concerts over there--the Orchestra of Paris conducted by Christoph Eschenbach, simply amazing. Then Caveau de la Huchette--the temple of jazz in the Quartier Latin, where, by the way, they also have a lot of Greek restaurants, if you’re interested, we could go there later for a moussaka. Then, let me think, yes, there is this coffee shop or bar on Rue Champollion, where all the cinemas are, it’s pretty cool. Nothing special, that’s the whole point.”
“Let’s go there.”
We arrive at this café, very close yet hiding away from the prestige of the Sorbonne area. Tak orders a tea, I take a cappuccino. I wish they had crêpes, too.
“So, tell me, how are you? I haven’t seen you for more than a year.”
I do not know how to answer that question. It is embarrassing. Where should I start?
“Well, as you know, I’ve been trying to find…a way to survive…” Why am I mumbling, Tak is my friend, he is not going to laugh at me.
“Survive financially… It must be tough, no?”
“Well, you should know, Tak, you’ve been through this before.”
“Yeah, but now it’s worse, isn’t it? I heard unemployment in the UK is pretty high. How can you make your CV noticed when everyone’s applying for the same jobs?”
“Unfurling a giant version of it in Trafalgar Square?”
“Can you do that?” Tak asks enthusiastically.
“I can’t. It’s been done already. It’s not original anymore. I’d just get arrested.”
“No, definitely not cool. What about your PhD, have you given up?”
Before being able to say anything, I look out and witness this strange moment when out of nowhere the hail started drumming on the window. Just like the 6th of July. The rage of nature at the loss of one existence. Only for nature, every person matters. How many souls are being liberated this very moment, I wonder?
“Ah, no, actually, not yet. I am waiting for the results of some applications. Some professors didn’t bother reply yet. But I’m still working on it,” I tell him shyly.
“Last year you seemed quite desperate to get a scholarship.”
“I still am,” I confess. “I can’t go further without a scholarship, you know that.”
“So, what’s the problem? Why didn’t it work out so-far?”
“Tak, now you sound like Simon Cowell!”
“Sorry …” Tak looks highly reflective. “Did you try contacting him?”
“Oh, come on. He’s in a different industry.”
“The entertainment industry? What’s so entertaining about university research?”
“True. Touché.” Tak starts laughing heartily. Then his laughter gets wilder. “Do you remember Stavros Flatley? The hilarious Greek dancers? Simon, somewhere deep down, you’ve got some Greek in you … Aha ha ha … Nobody’s that cool if he’s not a big Greek.” We are both laughing away our tears.
“I didn’t know you’ve been watching the show, Tak.”
“Well, I watched Stavros Flatley for sure … So, come on, ha ha … tell me, tell me what happened.”
“Well, what happened is that nothing worked out yet because …” Now where do I start? … “Because there are a lot of leeches in the academia, as you know, and I am not particularly their target student. And I’m not kissing their posterior either!”
“Are you talking about English-speaking countries? Academics over there usually have very strong ethics, don’t they? I don’t remember having any problems in my postdoc years.”
“Well, yes, but it depends, not all of them. But no, I’ve given up applying over there, for different reasons. These days, adequate funding in humanities is virtually inexistent. Almost.”
“I see. So, what else did you try?”
“Oh, well, I first applied to universities in countries where they speak French, then …”
Paris at night. Tak and I are now returning to the centre. That is to me, Saint Michel square. Ian and Guy have just called, they seem to have finished their dinner somewhere at the Louvre and are now willing to go to a jazz club. We walk slowly the stony streets of Paris, stopping frequently and giggling at all the self-deprecating jokes Tak cracked today. I found it refreshing, to listen to someone so relaxed, someone with an amazingly positive, inspiring attitude towards everything, including disappointment, unfairness, suffering. I felt I had a genuinely great time.
We meet Ian and Guy in front of the Gibert Jeune bookshop. Ian gives me a big hug and asks me about my day. I tell him I had a long discussion with Tak about politics and corruption, unemployment and indifference, biographies of famous mathematicians and rock festivals. And that Tak found it hard to believe what I have been through these past twelve months. Ian reminds me that it does take time for one to digest the nonsense of it all. He already knows the story about that constipated university telling me not to bother applying for the PhD, because they had their own internal applicants, or the other university where the only doctoral scholarship went to an overqualified lady who already had completed five years of funded postdoctoral research and also had sound teaching experience--a friend of the programme coordinator, of course, or the story of the scholarship I have not even been considered for, because my research proposal had too many words.
Needless to mention the internship where my online application was curiously lost in cyberspace, or the prestigious one in New York which got secretly cancelled due to the recession. Yet, in spite of the absurdity of every single example, I can assure Ian that Tak believed every word I said. Ian beams and tells me that Tak understands because he happens to be different, whereas other people would just think that so many rejections only prove that I am not good enough for that particular path. He is probably right. There is no way I can prove that my existence is worth anybody’s attention. How reassuring! I hold Ian’s hand and the four of us walk along towards the jazz club.
We arrive at Caveau de la Huchette, which is a dancing cave, so to speak. It is not far from the Notre Dame Cathedral, and it has been used during the French Revolution for underground trials and killings. It has later become a famous jazz club. We have been here for an hour already, the music is great, the beer not completely awful. Guy is swaying to the rhythm of the music. I check the poster again, it is the Brothers D. Blue Band playing tonight. Guy is in the middle of the crowd, turning, tapping, swinging, bending, twisting, dreaming of and missing his saxophonist girlfriend, embracing the transparent contours of her absent presence, loving her with all his heart while imaginarily turning, bending, swinging her on the dance floor. Good she is coming back next week. Guy seems to be completely enjoying himself, Tak keeps telling jokes and stories, Ian laughs his heart out every time, I try to hear them but the music is too loud, so I pull them both on the dance floor. We all lose ourselves to the frenzy and joy of music.
London at dawn, weeks later. My fingers are chasing Artaud’s words down the page. J’ai beau croire… No matter how much I believe in the absolute… consistency of the inner world of images, I need a bigger reality… I underline the phrase, I surround it with the pencil over and over again. And again. Artaud has been expelled from the Surrealist group, just like Dali. I myself am the Surrealism, Dali seems to have replied to his judges. I tell myself that both of them had utter genius. Ian brings me the coffee, cuddles me and informs me that Dame Mitsuko Uchida was to be performing at the Royal Festival Hall that evening. My sheer disappointment was just about to come to the surface, when Ian gave me a playful look and showed me two tickets. I am so excited. Uchida, she is my Surrealism.
I have read, and I like to believe it is true, that Uchida, not the Japanese, not the Viennese, but the individual, ran away from illusions of perfection, to come here, in London, to read, to think, to engage into self-study, to reinvent herself. She seems to have done all these intensively for about ten years, before deciding that this time, she knew who Uchida was. And Uchida, discovered by Uchida, was fantastic. She was going to show us again who she was soon enough, with a little help from Mozart, Webern and Schönberg.
The whole space is suspended from a piano. The music is here to disturb, to wake up, to make us think. The audience is holding back in their seats, the rhythms are uncontrollable, unexpected, notes swap with silences, the piano is touched, felt, hit and ultimately healed by the hands of a pianist confronting the lucidity of music. No image satisfies me if it is not also knowledge, if it does not bring its substance along with its lucidity… Just like Artaud tearing up his sheets of paper, Uchida is tearing up the air, communicating her emotion to her reason and inversely, the reason to the emotion. Knowledge is pouring from every single piece she reinterprets. Her effortless performance is the result of the sustained intellectual effort she made to seek within herself, the essence of Being.
In the context of her own Being, Uchida is bringing together classical and modern, calm and noise, absolute and chaos. All her energies converge within, and then diverge towards the others, intermingled. Her music demands us to transcend the limits of our own beings. To transcend the limits involves the need to stop posing, start concentrating the mind, and have the guts, as she once said, to break loose from illusions, from perfection, from ourselves. To transcend the limits means to go beyond self, world or death and reach an elevating consciousness of something higher, something …
I abandon for a second my abstract thoughts and simply watch. Uchida’s gaze stopped over the keyboard, her fingers are quitting the notes, her movements are freezing, she lifts her eyes and faces the audience, when a labyrinth of force racing to come out with the madness of intelligence makes itself visible. The silence is screaming on the bottom of the ocean, the psychedelic uproars of underground clubs turn mute, the world is symbolically brought in a more comfortable space, that of one’s own consciousness, the objects into the flow of consciousness of the subjects, we are facing ourselves while facing her, we are facing our status of being-in-the-world while facing each other. And thus, in the realm of consciousness, the self gets to transcend the ontological fear towards what exists. The entire Objective world is bracketed while Uchida’s music is leading us towards the beyond brackets. My body convulses and a deep sigh of lament bitterly escapes me. I dart quickly towards the door, break down and weep.
The Southbank Centre. The concert hall is now empty. All the others went downstairs to treat themselves to a glass of wine. Ian and I are still inside, sitting back and gazing at the empty stage.
“So, what did you think?” Ian asks suddenly.
“I … I am speechless. I don’t know how to put into words what I feel right now.”
“Me neither … Neither the ontical depiction of entities within-the-world nor the ontological Interpretation of their Being is such as to reach the phenomenon of the world … ”
“Pardon?” I look up at Ian and smile.
“Oh, it’s Being and Time. Haven’t you also been lost in thought? I bet you have.”
“Yes, of course,” I answer.
“I’ve listened and listened till I went beyond emotion. I became interested in what makes her possible. I couldn’t describe what I heard, I couldn’t interpret her being, I simply realized … ”
“Yes?” I ask.
“I realized she was a phenomenon … in this world full of simple phenomena, in this space filled with air and despair, and well out of this time which nobody understands. And I am part of this world, I am being-within-the-world, I am part of an interpreting, philosophical space that reduces Being to Interpretation. We can get to somehow understand the possibility of her being, but never … ” Ian stops. He takes a deep breath then he continues.
“We can never discover how time and timelessness work together. How being-within-the-world and being-beyond-the-world meet, within the limits of this existence. They met on stage tonight. They inspired each other, they built together. Uchida is time, and she makes eternity.”
I place my hand on Ian’s shoulder and tap it lightly. We have been invited out, they are shutting the doors of the concert hall. I suggest that we go downstairs, to the Saison Poetry Library, on the second floor.
We must ask for permission to set foot in, as they will be closing quite soon. The librarian seems delighted to have us there, even only for a short while. Ian is feeling the books with the tips of his fingers, sometimes stops, takes out a Herder or a Rilke, reads quietly, puts them back, turns around, breathes in the pleasure of being surrounded by verse and knowledge. I absorb his presence with all the love in my eyes, and sneak between the books myself. I lose track of time.
After a while, Ian comes close, hugs me and asks me about my findings. I tell him that in 1867, Mallarmé wrote to his friend that he had discovered the absolute. And I start reading from the book I was holding. Ma Pensée s’est pensée… I keep reading while Ian is nodding his head in approval: …le reflet du Temps …
Ian tells me we need to go, I close the book and put it back on the shelf. We thank the librarian for his kindness and walk down the stairs. Ian is translating in a low voice what I had read to him before. My Thought has arrived to a pure Concept. What my Being suffered during this long agony is indescribable, but fortunately, the most impure region where my mind can venture is Eternity … my Mind will not be obscured any more by the reflection of Time … He kisses my eyelid and gives me an enlightened grin.
We try to walk out of the Southbank Centre, but there are people dancing everywhere ahead of us, left and right, between chairs, on the tables, all the way to the river Thames, all wearing colorful T-shirts, all jumping for joy. Ian and I can barely move, we are trapped in the DanceMob. River Thames keeps flowing under bridges, while London is following its rhythm, its joie de vivre, its rainbow of moves, T-shirts and smiles. Being-within-the-world fells great tonight. Unexpected, chaotic, terribly good.
Somewhere on a bridge over the Thames, at sunset. I am leaning against the parapet, watching this rare view. I feel swallowed with all my rainbows by the bright reddish-yellow colour of the deep horizon. Ian has wrapped his arms around my neck, and is protecting my back from cold winds.
“Thank you for existing,” I tell him.
I smile, lift him up and ride him on my back over the bridge, slowly, heavily, totally, in perfect unity.