READING FAULKNER


Novella  by ©IGOR POMERANTSEV
Translated from Russian into English by Frank Williams


reading-faulknerI am reluctant to put the last full stop. I feel I am making an end not to a short tale, but to my first, happiest and briefest, life.

I am in a room of music and smoke. My father's taut back, sweat stains smelling of Chypre deodorant.  The awfulness of newspaper editorials; what ponderous words father has to juggle; Machine and Tractor Stations, Party Directive...  He fought shy of the word "journalist", referred to himself as - newsman.  The end of the 'fifties, I hid in the room, father, the radiogram blazing heat, its little green eye, and a stream of jazz pulsing out of a black Harlem udder.  I reach out my hands, my face, my heart.  This was the milk I fed on.  Did Faulkner begin with this?

No.

: Midday, helmets of cupolas, steep steps, we're in T-shirts, six years old, cool close air of the church.  From above and from one side: a voice and a pock-marked face, separately:  "Out, Jewish runt".
Didn't mean me. Meant Monny. Chasing our breath, Monny's semibasement, the absurd way Reuben Lvovich spread his hands.  Did Faulkner begin like this?

No.

: A girl, on the shore of you.  How high the sky.  How deep the kiss. I do not enter - I swim far out into you: past - buoys, past - horizons; glancing back could not see the rim of the shore and was glad. Remember how ten Julys ago you, same age as you are now, went into the breath taking Black Sea and were a warm current in it.  But does Faulkner have anything to do with this?  He does.  He does!

Insane: the hands of Benjy Compson's watch turn both ways. He registers events like an artist who has not been seduced by the laws of perspective. For Benjy an event possesses neither logic, nor an end, nor a beginning, but only contours, colour, smell, a degree of pleasure or pain. He often cries, but his tears are neither bitter nor sad - they flow because they flow; tears are his means of communication.  He distinguishes the words that people say to him not by their meaning, but by their intonations, their timbre.  It's as if Benjy was on a merry-go-round.  One time round. Caddy and Charley are in the hammock in the garden. Second time round, half a lifetime long. Quentin and a dandy wearing a red tie are in the hammock. His head spins. Benjy clings to the wooden horse's mane. The tears come tumbling. Thirty three years. Round and round. Round and round. The same faces, smells, shouts. In the ten lines of the first paragraph the word "fence" occurs 5 times, "went" 5 times, "hit" 4 times, "flower" 3 times, "flag" 3 times.

Benny's record stuck on "I love Caddy". (The gate, school girls walking in the dusk, the smell of the trees - this is all Caddy). For him the night ends happily: with Caddy's presence (they sleep next each other) and what she says about waking up. But when she puts on perfume, Caddy becomes a stranger: he runs away from her. For Benjy an adjective is often more important and more diverting than the object it describes. After noticing "bright shapes" one day, he came to think of them simply as "bright"(leaving out the noun). It is through his choice of adjectives that a poet reveals himself. Mandelstam, a genius of the adjective, knew the secret of substantiation.

The blind swallow flies back into the hall of shadows
On clipped wings to play with those transparent.

Or:
But I have I have forgotten what I wanted to say,
And thought incorporeal flies back into the hall of shadows.
And always the transparent speaks of something else...

So, we have drawn a comparison between Benjy and Mandelstam. Perhaps I should be more precise: there is always an author standing behind Benjy.  Were Benjamin Compson to take up the pen himself, all that would remain on paper, most probably, would be fragmentary lines and spittle stains.  Faulkner uses lexical flat-footedness, ellipses, hiatuses, chooses his adjectives to create the illusion that Benjy is telling his own story himself.  Faulkner writes "from within". We judge the hero's thought process to be shadowy, fragmented and intermittent not because the author uses these words to characterise Benjy.  From the very first sentence of the novel Benjy is looking through something: the fence, twining flowers.  It is a hint, a clue -it is up to us to draw the conclusion. 

These are lines by a good poet.
What bitter words!
With sand, half raw.

Very accurately expressed (about the rustling of foliage).  Faulkner is a poet of the highest calibre.  He selects just the right words, arranges them in such a way, uses punctuation in such a manner that we do not simply read the meaning of sand and moisture from the page, we feel it in our teeth and on our skin.  This sentence for example. "What do you think of that scouring her head into the".  Then the ground intervenes.  The full stop after "the" marks the end of literature and the beginning of life.
Culture expresses itself at all levels. At the level of grammar, too.  American Indians spoke of themselves in the third person.  In the Song of the Sybil, part of the Elder Edda, the ancient Icelandic saga dating from c. 10th century, the sorceress speaks of herself in both the first person singular ("... through all worlds I see....", "I know an ash-tree, named Yggdrasil") and in the third person ("One day she was practising her craft in secret...", “Arm-rings and neck¬laces Odin gave her").  This is indicative of an ambivalent world view, still partly pagan, already partly monotheistic.  Benjy is an idiot: he is diffuse, blurred, smudged, but all the same, as he copies the people around him, he thinks only in terms of "I".  This is a purely formal individualization.  In himself Benjy, unlike Quentin or Jason, is a zero, a nothing.  He is of interest as an example of the working of Faulkner's editing scissors, of his telescopic sights.  The first chapter is a masterpiece of the device of 'making strange' - 'ostranenie’.
The events of the first chapter are not structured chronologically, but, with Benjy's help, associatively.  All the subsequent chapters form the solution to this riddle, the key to the random pattern of Benjy's perception.  In school text books children are often set exercises of the kind: complete the gaps in the following sentences. A schoolbook has a didactic and educational function.  Faulkner couldn't give a damn about developing our imagination or powers of logic.  He is an artist.  He pursues his aesthetic truth.  The chapter written through Benjy's eyes is delayed action prose; at first it leaves the reader nonplussed and charmed, despite his incomprehension, but once he has followed the book through to the end the reader is amazed and captivated by its precision, daring and skill.  Happiness is sweet only when attained after surmounting obstacles and resistance.  This is no less true of the joy of reading.

The rhythm of the tension in the opening chapter is pre-set and measured: Benjy’s narrow-gauge perception is combined with a patchy account of events: one moment Lester is hiding somebody's ball, the next he is keeping the grandmother's death from the children.

Nearly ten years ago an ecstatic second-year student, my namesake, wrote: "So, this is Chernovtsy! On your feet - you have to when people are talking of love.  This town is built of innuendoes, smoke and shouts.  In its backyards, where showers graze, there are piles of twisted birdcages and decrepit cats rub against ashen pigeons.  On its walls are the corniced outlines of windows.  Stone hints.  As though everything had been done ready for a cubic metre of brick to be taken out, but suddenly there had been an outbreak of plague or an enemy invasion, so steps butted inanely against the place where a door should have been - the way an alchemist on his death bed might reveal only half his secret.  Chernovtsy is eroded with alleys.  In some outlying suburbs, in some distant echoes of the town, where smell and colour have merged, poplars thrust through..."

To deny the past is to deny the future as well.  I have no intention of renouncing the hollow abstractions of my younger writing. Better to try again, to describe Chernovtsy once more.  Might I even make a success of it this time?
Begin at the beginning: fields: of corn, potatoes, peas - limitless, boundless; a sort of spatial orgy, debauchery - this in town, too -and you looking horror-stricken at the mercurial boys spilling into the distance.  And here you are, quite alone with a Dureresque ant, a blade of corn, a trembling in your knees. Can this really be compared to the discomfort of a corridor in semi-darkness when you plead, "Mummy, stay outside the toilet door or I'll be frightened to come out!"? Two pea pods squeezed hard in the hand and forgotten, sweet milky tears in the hulls.  All this will be repeated a thousand times -on the stone roadways - except the flash of your elder brother's orange tee-shirt between the houses; he and his pals are running away from you, they're stronger, they've more stamina, leave you behind, with a stitch in your side and wet, salty lashes; and then on those same cobblestones a woman calls out to you "That'll do!  That'll do!", and the tram doors rattle shut behind her, and your pain rises slowly, like in a lift, up your side to your chest and stops - once and for all - under the left nipple, and you will carry on, as before, everything else quite forgotten, squeezing in your blenched palm two stupid pea pods - sweet milky tears.

My childhood smelt of grapes, greenery and caraway.  It passed under the watchful eyes of grandfathers (later I figured out: only one was my grandfather, all the rest were his brothers).  Can't remember any winters in my childhood; perpetual July, the air flowing from the swelling apples and tickling so your head swam. My first tricycle.  I pedaled along on it till my knees began to hit my chin.  Then - suddenly - an Eagle - my sandals could hardly reach.  My brother's teacher wringing her hands: "Svetlana Ivanovna! I saw your youngest; he was riding along the next street!"  The garden isn't big enough, and our street's too small, and how marvellous! - This town has been built big enough for me to grow into. I pick up speed and my brother doesn't have to hold onto the saddle any more.  The tarmac stretches a long way and so does the clinical smell from behind the fence surrounding the hospital grounds. Another two years and I'll have learnt of the existence of the word 'hepatitis' and felt the plumpness and volume of the word 'liver'. I'll have shuffled through a chill December dawn in sloppy government-issue slippers two sizes too big, in wretched pyjamas along an empty echoing corridor and gone into a high-ceilinged washroom, always freshly painted somehow, and found my jar with its tag inscribed "G. Lyustrin: Urine Specimen" and filled it s-s-s soundlessly.  Never in my life since have I seen so salty, so quinine-bitter a blackish yellow electric colour as in hospital washrooms of a lonely December dawn!  Lying, nearly delirious, in the isolation ward, I would lick that colour from my lips; for a long time I watched the bare feet of Galya, the auxiliary nurse, it got embarrassing and the best I could do - I blush even now as I write - was to ask, "Galya, do you have flat feet?" Where on earth had I picked up an expression like that?  But that was after, two years later; meanwhile I discover block after block on my translucent spokes and splinters of suburban manure fly off my tyres on the trim cobbles of the town centre, gaudy as a fairground.  Hunchbacks; madmen; peasants tricked out like painted Easter eggs; Jews - every man a Kafka, every old woman an eternity - this just whistles past my elbows.  I pedal years, not kilometres, on my bicycle with its broken brake.  How strange; all around me people are speaking German and Romanian, yet I can understand every word.  I know that boy, and the girl he calls out to.  "Ame!"  His name is Paul Anchel.  When he has come of age he will change it to Celan, and literary encyclopaedias will have the words "outstanding Austrian poet" after his dates.  In the meantime all three of us are on the banks of the River Prut.  We find an oasis of sand in the middle of the sharp, stinging pebbles.  The sand squishes between our toes like whipped cream.  The water is freezing.  You stand on tip toe and stretch up - to keep the icy band from touching your waist.  You collapse. "Boys!  Don't swim too far out!" - It’s Ame's voice.

The end of May, nineteen seventy which? We're sitting in the kitchen - the only place there's anything left to sit on.  Everything is packed, the suitcases crammed, the hold-alls fastened with miniature padlocks.  I feel as though I'm already on the platform, can hear the sobbing, and give way to tears myself to the quiet strains of a Jewish melody.  Light years, dark years.  But where can you go to emigrate from yourself?  Head first into the Seine, like Paul? A woman with a young face and resonant grey hair says: "He was a very handsome boy.  He was handsome morning, evening, at high school, in the library..."

We sip our coffee, cold now.  Amaliya asks: "Do you want to translate Paul's poems?"

"No", I reply and feel: I must add something, explain something. But it's not entirely clear to me yet, I couldn't even explain coherently to myself why I've come to see this woman, why I'm strain¬ing cold coffee grounds and don't want, don't want to leave.  I go back to pre-war Chernovtsy.  I pop round to the market, smile at the Hutzul women in their clean starched aprons, taste their blindingly white cottage cheese - it melts on the tongue quicker than snow. I stop at every little cellar with a bunch of grapes daubed on the door, drink from wooden mugs.  How the sky whirls above my head. How intoxicated this air is.

"You wanted to show me Chernovtsy?"
reading-faulknerThe granular wall of a house.  The fog endless, like a yawn.  Her parents do not allow her to be out after eleven.  Slowly we lift off from the ground.  Here they come flying over the Ukraine, not a witch and a warlock but a young woman and a young man.  He shivers and turns his collar up.  The Milky Way is just overhead, and when they fly over the lights of the town the man huddles up against the draught coming from between the stars.  That's how we fly, hand in hand, until the dawn reveals before us my Dublin, my Vitebsk, my little town.  The last velvet scraps of freshly ploughed fields and rooftops, rooftops.  My beloved, cautiously: a little patch of cloud is somebody's sweet dream.  My legs tingle from unfamiliar contact with paving stones.  A pavement.  A doorway.  Then deeper still, up slimy steps, through a sharp aroma of garbage; do you hear in this basement semi-darkness with its damp memory stains on the ceiling the voice of a child chant:

One, two, three, four, five -
I am coming, you must hide.
If it's you I chance to see -
You can't "blame me?

Rush to hide, purposely with her, no, not here, they'll find us straightaway, yes, here, in this damp, trembling gloom; a crevice thinner than a thread.  She looks through it, sees the shout "Cooee I'm coming", and I also look into the crevice from behind her, but not so as to see anything - so as to touch the blade of her shoulder, the apple of her elbow; night in the eyes.

It was me you chanced to see.  You can't blame me.  And then a figure detaches itself from the darkness, the spitting image of me, with a stubble and mourning under his nails.  He pushes you aside and lands me a fatal blow to the temple with his fist.

How to begin this fragment of my prose, my poetry, my life? Abruptly and chaotically? And then somewhere towards the middle bring to it an almost dry, almost official clarity, too dry and too close to officialise for me to be suspected of harbouring a passion for good prose?  Or the other way about: first give dates, names, places of meetings and partings, and then with each word climb steeper and faster until the eardrums burst and blood spurts from the nose:  Well, if that's the way it's going to be:  Sunday, the end of March; in the morning an unshaven old, old young writer looked at me out of the mirror.  He threw open the windows and let some warmth into the street. He came down the stairs, his head bare for the first time that year, his overcoat unbuttoned, and he could feel a pain in his chest -because it was impossible to express everything fully.  Listening carefully to his pain, he recalled a stanza by his favourite poet who had called, one of his books "My Sister Life", surely to spite Saint Francis.

It seems as if your image
Drawn fine with pointed steel      
Is now in silver lines
Etched deep into my heart.      
   
The pain acquired a taste:  The way a green apple tingles inside your mouth.   Out in the yard the moist, swelling earth seemed to yield all at once to your heels.  Symbols of spring bobbed up from somewhere: sportsmen in multi-coloured shirts.  The symbols dribbled a ball; table football; little figures, two dimensional and no perspective for the future; clavichords race; poor trigger co-ordination; sometimes the ball flew over the wire mesh surrounding the pitch and the children standing at the wire all rushed for it, retrieved it, and then threw it back over onto the pitch again, switching the bodies and voices of the players back on.  On his return, the third person singular rinsed out two wine glasses - he was expecting company - recalled her lips that smelt of dill, and then the whole of that winter and the air, all of which also smelt of dill, gulped down a mouthful of acid white wine and sat down at the table.  The words came easily.  About the Sunday in March, the moist, yielding earth, the good looking sportsmen in their multi-coloured shirts and the smell of vegetable plots in June. But the most important thing, the reason he was writing, evaded, his pen; either he was afraid of con¬fronting this most important thing head on, or he was leaving it, like a juicy tit-bit, till last.

Ding dong!  Let's put aside the book before it's too late, let's abandon chapter two, let's forget about that fateful June day in 1910. Let's get back to Benjy's world: Quentin is still alive and well, Caddy is happily splashing in the creek and Jason - not such a villain - the paper models he tore up don't matter.  No way.  Can you really get away from Faulkner?  Could you describe in one sentence, the way he does, the haste day in day out of people who are always late: "...the same ones fighting the same heaving coat sleeves..."? His every line is a horizon.  You towards it - it away from you.  Quentin smashes up his watch.  It ticks blithely away.  Besides, he's cut his finger and smeared the watch face with blood.  Is there any point in turning this metaphor inside out?  I think not.  What's interesting is the structure of Faulkner's metaphors.  First he lobs in a near truism.  But then he begins to turn it over and spin it out.  You stand on tiptoe while he keeps pulling you up behind him - never to get within reach.

When you die, whatever your station in life, there's always a smell about.  There goes a young corpse rattling along in a tram, wearing new clothes and a lifeless watch and expression.  He reeks of memories; the memories have the cloying reek of honeysuckle, embraces and camphor: the way everything behind a smokescreen is refracted, stratified, molten - who needs commas?

Quentin is a maximalist.  He sees everything absolutely literally. Seeing colours is to see them unalloyed: eternal, Biblical.  Good as in a parable - of a piece.  His world is collapsing, collapsing: in a moment Quentin will be buried under the ruins.  I don't mean Quentin's deluded.  I mean we are.  It is Quentin who is right, not us! From the moment Caddy, the sister he loved madly (it seems mad to us, but there was no other way he could love her), met a certain Dalton Ames and lost her virginity, Quentin's time is measured by his temporal artery.  Dalton Ames.  Ding dong.  Dalton Ames.  And every¬where the infernal machine, on his wrist, in watchmakers' windows, on towers.  Every moment is co-experienced, it is not endured alone. Hearing, smell, vision, conscience are sharpened.

Some people are lucky; their skin is as thick as tree bark.  The existence of such fortunate’s as these is probably the reason why some people have been left completely without skin.  And so they live as though they'd been flayed.  It's a good thing the Ice Age has ended. Has it?

For Quentin, Dostoevsky's famous remark about an infant's tear is not a quote, but a drop of salt water falling from an infant's cheek into the abyss.  Quentin plunges after it.

But, Sir, but, Quentin, how did you find your way into a novel written in '29?  You must escape.  The warder has been bribed, I'll smuggle in a rope ladder and a file.  Stop dawdling.  You reach out over the powerful, crew-cut head of Hemingway's Lieutenant Henry to Boell's unfortunate German lad who can detect smells over the telephone; to the unforgettable Seymour Glass; to the adolescent who revealed his most terrible secret to the girl he loved on a darkened landing outside the school hall: his skin speckled with psoriasis.  Henry is of no consequence of course.  He's not worth talking about.  Better another lieutenant, Lieutenant Glan.  Or Bunin's Arsenyev.  They're short on skin, too.  But they have a subtlety that is biological, class, psychological sooner than spiritual.  Let's stay with Seymour for a moment.  Here he is, as he takes leave of life before killing himself, kissing the arch of Sybil's foot.  I shan't paraphrase.

"The young man put on his robe, closed the lapels tight, and jammed his towel into his pocket.  He picked, up the slimy, wet, cumbersome float and put it under his arm".  Here is Quentin in the last hour of his life.  "Then I remembered I hadn't brushed my teeth, so I had to open the bag again.  I found my toothbrush and got some of Shreve's paste and went out and brushed my teeth.  I squeezed the brush as dry as I could and put it back in the bag and shut it, and went to the door again".  Intonation, mood and accessories mesh so closely!

Freedom consists not so much of overcoming and rejecting conventional ethics as of yielding to and following one's own, genetic ethic. Quentin is a free man.  No matter how convincing Compson senior may be in his arguments with his son, his position is essentially false since a man's strength lies in his ability to experience his entire life in the interval between each heart beat.

There is a stylistic device: the zeugma.  We need not go far for an example: "...with a lifeless watch and expression".  Don't believe me. I am not master of the word, it is master of me.  With a lucidity of expression, Quentin disembodies his soul.  In atonement.  ...and he jumped down from the bridge and walked on the water as on dry land...

... cant send you much Nina Arkadyevna phoned so I talked her into it drink the soup and eat the meatballs heat them up first on a low flame if you don’t like the shirt sell it cost  7.50 I like it myself doesn’t mark easily and washes well same colour as your eyes Genochka don’t forget your mother ring and tell her your news the main thing if it gets cold put on warm undies take care of yourself how are you off for money what do you buy did you fetch your washing from the laundry do you sweep your room kitchen and corridor so many questions raining on your bachelor head and aren’t you tired of living that way I was at the flea market sold fathers overcoat for 35 tonyas mother finally got here an uninvited guest is worse than a Tatar could hardly see Tolechka for dust didn't want so much as look at her but I got there at lunchtime and Tolya phoned me says she wants to talk to you but I didn’t want to see her stayed away from the house until evening when shed gone the "bitch wants to make it up but I am damned if Ill have anything to do with her and said as much to Tonya she didn’t like it of course shed already forgiven her but when I remember the engagement party I shudder so does Tolechka you see he’s a real man wont forgive her she’s offended us so deeply full marks sonny if you’re buying cottage cheese you must have milk must eat dairy foods congratulated Mika yesterday she moved flats living with her granny came with her husband she loves all the same I gave her a big shopping bag flower pot and your mums traditional cream cake sonny I want to get some boots made shop ones don’t fit the insteps are always high cost 60r terrible price but what can you do my legs are old and sick sonny you must wash your scarf clean all your shoes every day wash and dry your face they put a new pink cloth on the table today it made me very pleased that you’d bought the spotted shirt and some socks I’d like you to get yourself a suit as well an imported one a suit looks smarter after all you can nearly afford a suit but a jacket is a lot easier to buy it costs less with trousers but as you can nearly afford a suit get one and buy the jacket and trousers later now its winter put on flannelette undies if its not too cold and Ill make you some more before summer sonny if you see any more spotted shirts buy some for Tolya Ill send you the money right away a 40 collar were short of absolutely everything find a nice girl with a flat of her own I’d come and see you what are you going to do if the landlord refuses you the flat think about it you can see Tonyas tummy swelling now why’ve you stopped phoning so often probably don’t miss me very much surely to god I don’t believe in miracles Genochka look for a good wife and stop playing the fool aren’t you tired of it how are you fixed for a winter hat go to your old place they might give it back after all its cold already you’re the envy of everybody I hope you appreciate your job put this under the glass on your desk what I must do on Saturday do the dusting tidy up wash vests pants and socks iron trousers under a damp cloth shine shoes until I can see my face in them and if need be mend them take washing to the laundry brush overcoat sew on any loose buttons look out for a wife every day to make life interesting happy and prosperous I read your letter it made me cry it gives me great sorrow and pain to think you are such a sonofabitch as to think me a simpleton your ideas and thoughts are so provoking you’ll never learn so were to be paupers all our lives even though I want a bit of comfort as much as the next person put your groceries in a saucepan take them out of the cellophane eat the fish first then the meat I’m not offended I KNOW MY WORTH more than you do it seems I’m a night fairy writing at six in the morning best wishes now that spring is here sunshine Genochka
 I don’t think you SHOULD send your good shirts to the laundry as they’ll either get torn or all the buttons will come off make an effort to wash your smalls mustn’t go around smelling sonny why don’t you want to buy a suit after all you haven’t got a decent suit everything you’ve got is only fit for the ragman if you haven’t spent the money already do something find yourself a wife don’t be such a polecat Tolyas still over the moon and Tonyas bulge gets bigger and bigger nothing fits her any more the fatty look for some trousers I’ve sent you a very instructive letter its a cry from the heart I wrote it at night and cried learn to have some regard for your mother I have a right to that little Tonya has toxicosis she’s sick sometimes wont be long now you said you want to change jobs travel from place to place or to be more precise follow somebody around 100 rubles a month but what use is it no prospects a menial dead end job kids stuff I don’t like it at all and what if you’re not going to get proper rest at night Ill be ashamed to tell people what you’re doing I used to think tomorrow would be easier than today but what happens after all life should get better sometime but you’re always up in the clouds and make me disenchanted with your life and mine and that’s dismal enough already meanwhile time passes its time to get our lives sorted out yours and mine get all this non¬sense out of your head be realistic remember your father and how he worked to the day he died I work every public holiday for an extra 5 rubles you don’t value anything wont you do something I forbid you to work anywhere else hello my boy thank you for phoning so often I’ve got used to you calling and hearing the phone go during every evening so my birthdays over a delicious showery spring day pity you weren’t here thank you for the present Mika and I were thinking of you after all she had an operation on my birthday remember how you waited at the hospital all night that was four years ago how can you rely on an alarm clock do you really sleep through it sonny are you writing the abstract of your thesis remember how much you wanted to write about Faulkner you must do a thorough serious job of it don’t skimp it be careful when you’re travelling keep your eyes peeled and your money well hidden and be sure to fasten it with a safety pin don’t laugh don’t be contrary keep your head you’ll get a flat some day and then Ill come and see you that’s my dream our telephones gone crazy it stopped working Saturday I was snivelling away came back on in the morning what’s your news your brother lucky man is living with his wife and her mum he treats them like slushies they cook and wash for him buy yourself a jar of honey you mustn’t just eat spicy things sent you ten rub yesterday for you to buy yourself a pot of honey and a bit of butter you might as well have something sweet for breakfast good for the brain how’s the room going ask around who’s got rooms to let hurry look tell your boss that everybody else has got somewhere to live except you maybe hell help or suggest something how are your pores don’t eat spicy things or drink spirits mind what I tell you and talk to me on the phone if you’re not going to write I’m just off a night shift could do with a spot of beddy-byes kiss you Sasha came to see us he’s off on business at the end of March and wants to stay with you he’s upset you haven’t answered Mika was here yesterday just popped round how are things at work do your best put in for promotion Tolechka changed the TV for us were over the moon cost 266 rubles 50 centimetre screen up to our ears in debt how do you like the blue towel and red pillow cases to rest your little head Khrapchenko was found guilty of killing his wife the swines sentenced to be shot where will you spend the holiday go to the theatre if you spend it with company you’ll need 10 rubles a waste for just one evening here’s a shirt a little surprise in the pocket you’ll never guess 3 rubles ha I’m going to look smart for May Day I’m making a new silk dress and you’ll look smart too the doctor can already feel its little head she’s got a belly on her like a poisoned pup were all so worried if you’re not going to ring then write why are you so hard on me sonny you must use a damp cloth to wipe the table so it doesn’t get tacky Tonya’s sow of a mother doesn’t even write who knows what the truth is what is her mother she’s so malicious so avaricious God almighty vengeance will come Ill send a parcel nuts good for the guts fish laid on a dish meat don’t overeat apples to make you smile they’re your favourites rennets Easter cake God bless socks pull them on scent nice and strong soap have a good soak jam spread as thick as you can happy birthday in advance wear the things for goodness sake and don’t forget your mother phone more often I miss you very much I’m worked off my feet I want to come and see you all my love Tolechka took a photo see I’m holding a daisy and the suns stopping to look must go now I’m a grandmother at last what a joy..

I read: "The place was full of ticking, like crickets in September grass".  I liked it.  It reminded me of Pasternak.

Their beams flowed by.  And iridescent beetles. The glass of dragon-flies roamed over cheeks.
The wood was full of tiny scintillations,
As at the clockmaker's beneath his tweezers.


A little further on: "...and the day like a pane of glass struck a light sharp blow...” This is what Pasternak has (about midday).

It collapses in ribs and rays,
In a gridiron of shivering reflected sunrays, like a glazier's box slipped
From a sweaty shoulder to the ground.


It is pleasant to discover that one's tastes are consistent. Somehow the title of a French novel appealed to me - Death in Earnest. I was overjoyed later when Pasternak's lines came back to me!

But old age is like Rome, demands,
Instead of wisecracks and of tricks,
Actors must give no easy readings
But death outright in sober earnest.


But my greatest joy came to me in a Chernovtsy street.  A man and a woman were walking 40 metres ahead of me. Her shadow, her walk, the inaudible tapping of her heels moved me deeply.  I caught them up and realised she was the woman I had "been in love with for quite some time.

On one of my flying visits to my family I found cuttings of newspaper articles my father had written in his desk drawer.  Strangely enough they consisted mostly of match reports and surveys of the football scene.  My father never worked on the news desk and he wrote sports pieces off his own bat.  I read them and was astounded.  They showed spirit, expertise, imagination.  In one of his pieces, headlined "It Takes More Than Balls to Score Goals", my father defined attack, pass and penalty so wittily and yet so precisely, I even thought: perhaps I ought to send these off to the Sporting Paper or Football and Hockey Weekly in Moscow.  The earliest cutting, yellowed like a leaf in a herbarium, was dated June 1949.  How old was my father then: thirty six? Yes, thirty six.  Here it is.

'The Abundant Fruit Of The
Great Cultural Revolution

The immortal works of Pushkin have become the daily fare of literally every Soviet family.  The great poet has found his way to the heart and mind of every citizen, because this country, after throwing off the fetters of capitalist slavery and establishing the power of the toiling masses, has carried through on the basis of the Soviet system, on the basis of the victory of socialism, a cultural revolution on the very grandest scale.

'There was a time when the capitalist countries paraded their "civilization" before Russia.  That time has long since passed!  The prophecy of the great Russian democrat Belinsky has come to pass. He wrote of his envy for the grandsons and great-grandsons of his generation, who were destined to see Russia at the head of the educated world, handing down the laws of science and art and receiving the reverential gratitude of all enlightened humanity.  Today our Motherland is the most culturally advanced country in the world, a torch bearer of civilization, the standard bearer of the most progressive ideas of all times and of all peoples.

'Where can the bosses of the capitalist countries "parade" their culture now!  Their "culture" has not only been left far behind -for a long time now it has been wallowing in a morass, it has degenerated, gone rotten to the core.  Always alienated from the people, organically foreign to them, bourgeois culture has in our time finally shown its true face - that it is the handmaid of the egotistical, mercenary interests of the ruling clique of monopoly capital.

'The preparations for the celebrations marking the 150th anni¬versary of the birth of the great Russian poet Pushkin, which falls tomorrow, have developed into a shining, joyful festival of socialist culture.

'The capital of our Motherland - Moscow, Lenin's great city, the Ukraine and Byelorussia, Georgia and Azerbaidjan, Central Asia and the Baltic States, the Urals and Siberia - our entire boundless country, from the Pacific Ocean to the Danube estuary, from the Polar regions to the Pamirs, will be honouring the memory of the great poet.

'Is all this simply chance?  Of course not!  Such is the nature, such are the advantages of socialist culture, which enriches and immeasurably widens the spiritual world of every Soviet citizen.

'During his lifetime Pushkin could only dream that his name would one day resound in each and every language that flourishes on the soil of our Motherland.  The poet's dream has been realised only in our time, under Soviet power, when all cultural treasures have become the property of the broadest masses of the people.

'Year in year out, day in day out, our Soviet culture grows richer, more abundant, more diverse.  The cadres of the intelli¬gentsia expand in every field of specialization, spawned out of the very depths of the people.  734 thousand students, more than a million if you include those studying part-time, are receiving instruction at our country's establishments of higher learning.  34.5 million Soviet children and young people are studying at primary, seven-year and secondary schools and at technical colleges.  The growth in the network of town and village clubs, houses of culture, libraries, theatres and other cultural and educational centres continues unabated. The number of outstanding works of Soviet culture and art multiplies.
reading-faulkner'As they celebrate the anniversary of their great poet, the peoples of our country will pronounce with special emotion his inspired, immortal lines:

Burn, thou holy sun!
As the lamp grows pale
Before the crystal light of dawn,
So false wisdom dims and fades
Before the immortal sun of intellect.
Long live the sun, let there be darkness no more!

'The "false wisdom" of capitalism's minstrels has dimmed and faded. They claimed that the exploited can never do without the exploiters, that the capitalist system is "eternal", that the toilers are not sufficiently "cultured" to be able to build a new life without the capitalists, build it on the basis of co-operation and mutual fraternal aid, free of the exploitation of man.  The fabrications of these "false wise men" have been overturned by the entire course of history.

'Even though they have outlived their time, the forces of the old capitalist world are still trying to turn back the wheel of history. In vain!  The forces of socialism and democracy are invincible.  The great ideas of communism, the ideas of Lenin and Stalin, are like a bright sun lighting the path of mankind to happiness and progress, to the boundless development of productive forces, to the universal blossoming of culture.

Long live the sun, let there be darkness no more!'


Slowly, slowly, slowly turns the fly wheel. Just a moment ago you were walking along a street, breathing in air and breathing out words. Now you have seized upon paper - they will soon be pouring out, like cherries out of a shirt.  But be patient.  Just one more instant so as to jump onto the running board of your favourite, the only, you can't live without it, story going at full pelt.  Let the woman inside gasp, let her mutter "madman", and just smile with your sharp white teeth. Can there be a happiness greater than that of writing in the first person?!

And on the terrace a girl with a ball – 0 God! The ball flies solemnly in an arc and my fingers uncertainly, as though remembering something, touch the blue and red rubber skin and go leaden.  Playing "turn around and touch the ground" with the girl - more nimble with every shot of the ball. Evens. Odds. Dizziness. A gently falling leaf at summer's end. A girl with a ball - 0 God! Now you will part. The third contingent is leaving. The blueish whiff of petrol from the buses, the mysterious glances of the senior girls; your adenoids moisten. Meanwhile the little square is still sprinkled with children - cars with sharp fins are coming for them, to take them away for ever, until next June, take away a boy, a girl, a translucent voice, a scratched knee, small breasts hard as a green plum in May.  There, far beyond the snowdrifts, the bugler is already bugling springily; here: ochre in the throat, crumpled discharge in the hand.  Have you handed everything in? Nothing left behind? A girl on the terrace. The traces of her fingers smell of wild strawberries, five clots of tenderness on the timorous membrane of the air. A gently falling leaf at summer's end.  A rain drop collapses onto a collar bone.

Everyone has grown up in a children's home.  Some have forgotten. Some remember. I remember.  Yesterday I saw my mother off.  The wind was blowing.  Behind my back was bad weather. The plane's engines whined. They assembled all the passengers behind an iron rail and then took them across the concrete apron. I was crying. Clumsy, clutching bundles, the older the younger, they walked the way children from a home do, and a glimpse of Yanush Korchak's back somewhere near the front.  In the night I dreamt of a silent, tightly swaddled sub¬marine.  In the morning I skipped breakfast and realised: mother has gone.  And it's today the "not later than eleven" girl flies to Moscow. People left behind, feel lonelier.  And here's another thing that seems the wrong way round: my university friend has come. Our paths have taken us in quite different directions.  Our differences are not expressed in words.  So his arrival can be counted as a separation.

The loudest rain in my life beat down one night onto the roof of a hut at pioneer camp.  Tree shadows writhed, on the walls, disheveled, unbuttoned.  The boys were frightened at camp.  Not the girls.  I am in the image of a girl: Ira with the slant-eyed name, Lina's was green-eyed, Alya of the small voice, as if she was looking at a dandelion. What am I: a tutor? A child?  I whirl my pillow in a cloud of down and feathers and at that same instant throw open the door and shout at myself, “Put that pillow down!"  In the most secret nook - we had to force a way through: cheeks scratched - between leaves, sky and earth, the girl says to me: "You won't tell anybody?"
She opens her little fist.  Green splinters of June sparkle, red ones of August, blue ones of Baltic evenings. Scorching your finger tips, bring them up to your eyelashes, till the eyes smart. We'11 dig a hole.  We'll bury all this glass, so as to pine in the winter, so as to want to return, scrape away the snow like deer, so that our berries spurt.  In oriental folk tales young men undo their knapsacks and as the wind carries their years away in every direction youths are transformed into old men before your very eyes.  Different coloured pieces of glass.  Our little secrets.  Let the girl's fist open in a thousand years' time, too.
"No, not to anybody.  Ever.  Not for anything".
Do you remember that time, Igor?  Our first winter teaching in the Carpathians.  The whiteness and the crispness.  We ran, our throats parched, after the sixth lesson in unbuttoned - nothing was ever very far away at the boarding school - overcoats and, throwing aside class work schedules, put our fingers, blue from cold and chalk dust, to the three electrical hot plates that were never switched off, three glowing crabs, and life returned to our fingers.  Then we would pour a vigorous wine into mugs and clunk them, sending sparks.  The clinging January air tingled against the window panes, while you smiled, a smile that was fleeting, like the scent of wine.  In the evening the Slyzhuk brothers and the 2nd form girl we were both in love with, Orisya Teren, came.  The light and warmth in her eyes and breath; beyond fragile shoulder blades - astral cold and darkness.  We taught English.  "What is it? It is a pen.  What is it?  It is a book."

Giirl, you don't phone me from Moscow.  Your girl friend came round, brought a book.  She remembers nothing of what happened to her at camp, except the rain in the night.  I went back to the paragraph I had written and added the sentence about the rain.
The third contingent is leaving!

"I won't sign your discharge paper, Lyustrin", matron said. “You're two pillow cases short".


I turn and hurry back at the double.  The parade ground is silent and deserted.  Eleven at night.  I adjust the bedclothes on my boys; they are asleep by now and their dreams about Black Hand bring them horror of the sweetest, most chilling sort.  Gates daubed clumsily "Pearly Shore".  We walk down Gurzuf's narrow, spiraling streets and the sea casts armfuls of white lilac at our bare feet.  At midday the children in the swimming instructor's team waited on this section of the beach, trembling with impatience, "One. Two. Three!" We swim, shoveling aside the water, thick as night, and our thin hands are covered in little bubbles and remind us of two bunches of boiling lilac.  Your swarthy body alongside mine.  The splash of hair.  How those two white columbines, two white doves, glisten on your chest!

But I keep running. Back. Back. To the summer with grandfather. Peas spattered from the green, soft-prickled tunnel of a hollow elder pipe; heart contracted into a tight fist; grandfather still young; the sticky trunks of cherry trees; thick drops of grapes;  I kiss him on the smile.  He is skinny, a medical attendant, tall, in a white coat, in front of the locked door of his study, with a nail in his hand, ah, scratched himself, and the doors are already open, the screech of a glazed cupboard door, Sunday, a label “Camphorated Oil".  I am saved. In the evening on the steps of a sanatorium chalet I play snap with Valya, a nurse, in the light of her overall; can't see anything, anything - not my cards, not hers, but we keep on playing, as though hypnotised; her face is next to mine; an eclipse of the moon; kisses like sunbeams across my face.  Then she wets her handkerchief with spit and wipes the lipstick from my cheeks and lips; my face is burning redder than the lipstick.

"Not a word, to your granddad", she whispers half tenderly, half threatening.

The third contingent is leaving.  Tomorrow they'll board up the windows, bolt the doors, hang a padlock, heavy as a stopped pendulum, on the gates.  I catch the last bus.  Read over what I've written. Look back for the last time.  I didn't find the pillow cases.  The accounts department of the union district committee will have the cost deducted from my wages.  Stupid, but what can you do?

Kirkegaard's "the mark of man is passion" is dissolved in the novel like salt.
Sometimes of an evening, looking at the gleaming city lights you see some that are heart-rendingly bright.  All the lamps in the world are behind Faulkner's window.  It's hard to talk about an artist's energy; it's elusive, since it does not show itself in plot, or in any of his themes, or in a so-called idea, yet at the same time it permeates throughout.  A book can be derivative, banal, teeter on the edge of parody, but if it has literary energy you cannot put it down. This energy dictates a special rhythm: of syntax, images and events. Dostoevsky's novels resemble the case history of an epileptic.  From one attack, with the victim in convulsions and banging his head on the ground - through a remission - to a new attack.  From one stupendous outburst, after which it would be better to die you might think, than appear in the next chapter – through a lull - to an even more stupend¬ous outburst.  Faulkner's energy is revealed through his montage; he marries things that are incompatible; this with regard to the art of colliding words, sentences, situations, characters.  Sparks fly. He holds the entire weight of his novel in balance.  He is unpredict¬able.  Every word is a snowfall in summer.

Try finding insignificant parents anywhere in Faulkner.  They might be blind, fanatical, drunk, but they are always, in all Faulkner's books, significant.  Here we see the writer's attitude to the past.  To his roots.  One of the heroes of Light In August, the Reverend Hightower, preaches unusual sermons to his congregation: in them he describes Jesus as a daredevil horseman, he weaves Bible stories with tales of Southern military prowess, while the land of Judea smells of the cotton plantation.  Faulkner's genealogy is the genealogy of the South.  His ancestors commanded cavalry regiments, were the victims of vendettas, themselves emptied revolvers into their enemies in cold blood.  His great grandfather was not only a magnificent swordsman (he died at the hand of a political rival) but also the author of a best seller, The White Rose of Memphis.  I do not mean to say that Faulkner's writing is autobiographical.  I am speaking of the origins of his energy.  "Our blood is older than us", wrote Marina Tsvetaeva.
Two forces tear at The Sound and the Fury - one centrifugal, the other centripetal.  This with regard to the "what" and the "how". Images break out of the novel, "object cuts object", the morphology is unfettered, the syntax unbridled; it is this textural, rather than narrative or dramatic, effect that creates the atmosphere of the book. A once glorious name is sullied with the taint of degeneration.  The family harbours an idiot, a suicide, an alcoholic and a blackguard. Everything rumbles and jangles: in a moment it will disintegrate, like a plane in the sky.  And yet: every gesture, every move, every pause in the novel is immutable, subordinated to an artistic logic. The fact that two thirds of The Sound and the Fury is written through the eyes of three characters is not a formal device.  Faulkner con¬ceives the world that way: the "I" is the centre of the solar system; these "It’s" cross paths but do not coincide; they are sentenced to loneliness and misunderstanding yet try to surmount them despite the sentence.

Some writers are praised for their restraint, their taste, their ability to master their impulses.  In the context of the decade some sort of restraint might almost seem to display courage.  But.  To write with restraint is to play deliberately for a draw.  Excess is the mark of genius.  Faulkner played to win, for unlimited stakes.

There's an entertaining film in which an English princess is facing questions from journalists.  Which place on your European tour did you like best?  She ought to have given this traditional question a no less traditional answer.  Well, I liked such and such in Brussels, such and such in Zurich.  In fact, the princess starts off like that, but then she stops suddenly and exclaims: "Rome of course!”  The princess was happy there because she loved it.  There can be no question about it:  Hesse, Becket, Antonioni are interesting, important.  The fact that they exist is wonderful.  But. But.  Of course, Faulkner.  Fellini.  Pasternak.  Rome!

Innovation is a qualitative shift in a tradition.  Joyce and Faulkner would not have been possible in English literature without Shakespeare.  He worked with language the way a butcher does.  He was up to his elbows in language.  His every line is like a White Dwarf.  An alloy of passion and bad taste.

On reading Faulkner's exploding prose the idea of the infinity of the Universe becomes real and palpable.
Art's quality of inner contradiction arises from the artist's efforts to express the spiritual through the material.  And then a strange thing happens: the greater the emphasis on things, objects in a work of art, the closer it is to God: the greater the emphasis on the inner man, the more firmly rooted it is in the material.


April already.  You have returned.  It's raining.  We stand at an open window.  I lick the drops from her face.  I kiss the air with its traces of her lashes and cannot stop.  We will soon part, probably.
At that time, when for the first time I did not merely understand, but felt that a woman's skin and lips were different from my skin and lips; the whole-town was dancing the tango to Petite Fleur.  Some¬where in Liverpool four young men with unfashionably long hair were rehearsing for the beat revolution, while we moved with intent serious¬ness somehow - left, left, right, left, left, right - in time to a bewitching puppet tune, not talking, not smiling.  It is perhaps because of that tango, which hardly anybody remembers these days, that we turned out to be closer to our elder brothers and sisters than our younger ones.  It was that year, literally a few months before his first stroke, that my father told me of an incident in his life which, after father's death made me return, in my thoughts at least, to that long gone wartime winter when my father had not yet met- indeed, had no inkling of his impending meeting with his future wife, i.e. my mother.  It was like this. During the first autumn of the war my father besieged the recruiting office every day asking, imploring, demanding to be sent to the front.  The newspaper for young people which he edited was not shut down until it was almost in the front line. It was then that they at last gave my father his two stripes, but they ordered him East to Kuibyshev, not West.  Nobody there really knew what to do with father: the divisional newspapers were bursting with journalists already, as well as with hangers-on from the literary world who thought that service in the army press was a more tangible contribution to the defence of the Fatherland than evacuation, a badly provisioned life in temporary lodgings and poring ever paper in tiny unheated rooms - where ink turned to little violet slivers of ice.  Nothing is more pitiful than the sight of a healthy unemployed man.  My father did the rounds, knocked on every door until finally one opened.  He was ordered to some place in Kuibyshev district, where, he was told, they needed a good political worker. All this I have remembered, as I sit at my table, pen in hand, almost without effort even though I heard it over ten years ago, in passing, not suspecting that this entire story - let's call it that - subsequently turned out to be incomparably more important and significant than my father imagined.  It got worse as it progressed.  He continued not by describing events, but with an attitude towards them, not with a blow by blow account, but in fragments of sentences, words, gestures. My father's voice: wire... bastard... smell of salt herring and bootleg vodka... interrogations.  Then more coherently:  camp gates, columns marching - not with a song, not with portraits of the leaders and scarlet banners, but to December's tinny marches - with doom in their step, with extinguished faces.  And you, you, my father, along¬side, shoulder to shoulder, "a good political worker", alongside the slant-eyed escort, they put you there, gave you two stripes, in the whirling snow of the blizzard you kick, kick the toe of your right boot against the heel of the left and then once again - left toe against right heel;  the ears on your cap let down and the ribbons tied in a bow; tears in your eyes, your cheeks crimson; daddy, it's true isn't it, it's not the wind forced those tears and your cheeks aren't red from cold?!  You damned grown-ups, all of you who were alive at the time, why were you not consumed by the fire of your shame?!  It's too late to undo     the laces on your caps, death has tied the knot.  So go on kicking: left against right, right against left!
By the Spring father had managed to get a transfer to a divisional newspaper. I am grateful to him for obtaining that transfer.

Why was it Faulkner became my shot at Sarajevo, and not, say, Salinger, reading whom I could never make up my mind: had I written it myself or was it written about me?  Once Quentin, on his way home for the vacation, leant out of the train window and exchanged a few words with a negro stranger sitting on a mule nearby.  The conversation was trivial enough, but it was a classic example of a dialogue between two Southerners: a black and a white.  An almost ritual exchange of pleasantries, with each of the participants observing the rules of a game not because these had been agreed in advance, but because they had imbibed them with their mothers' milk. Faulkner swayed me not by his generosity, not by his freedom, nor by his skill as a writer.  On her last visit my mother left me photo¬graphs taken the year before.  They showed our garden; a cellophane bag, spotted with either rain or dew, hangs on the washing line; everything is drenched in sunlight: patches of sunlight everywhere; and two people: our three-year-old neighbour, Katenka, with her favourite doll in her arms and myself - in the cool leafy arms of the garden, young and cheerful, as if the photo had been taken ten Junes ago.  For me Faulkner is his own man, in the most elevated sense of that expression.  I am a teacher and I know:  there are many adults among children; fewer than among adults, it's true.  With the stubbornness and fury of a boy lashed by nettles and a downpour, Faulkner tried to disconnect literature for breath, for the moment, for life.  There are magnificent, towering writers who have left behind them works of literature that are read and respected by every¬body.  Faulkner did not write works of literature - they are written by adults.  But he was a poet.

I didn't take him apart: didn't study him; didn't imitate him.  I conversed with him - he was his own man after all - and this is what came out of it.  Most likely some of it has come alive, something has remained in shadow.  I fear the Girl didn't really come off.  I am inclined to believe this is because she was alongside me in time while this story was being written.  In five or fifteen years' time, perhaps, I will be able to describe her better and more accurately.  Yesterday evening, out visiting, I was pestered by an otherwise perfectly well-read couple:  they demanded I explain why The Great Gatsby is a good novel.  With a feeling of hopelessness and despair I explained over and over, got into wheelspin, threshed about:  over and over they failed to understand and kept waiting for something. I would have died there and then gasping and foaming at the mouth, if the Girl's burning profile had not yelled at them: "He said everything, everything!"

Could I really describe her the way I ought?  She is after all, thank God, not an aesthetic reality, but life at its most authentic.

The minutes are numbered.  I remember the blue duck-nosed buses produced after the war.  How bitter we felt going in them from town, where we blew a month's pay in a weekend, back to the discomfort of the boarding school.  Five to six hours into the journey, on some steep incline or deadly downhill stretch, grey-headed and tarred Hutzuls would stop the bus.  They got on as if they were going into one of their own cottages, say "A’ternoonaall".  I have always envied people who can take their leave quickly and decisively.  Here I am standing in the hallway.  My mac is buttoned, my hat in my hand, but I drag it out, drag it out.  Well, that's it - everything, I think.



                           
Igor Pomerantsev, March-April, 1975,  Kiev.

 

 

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