Two Texts

For your amazement:

Love is masochistic. These cries and complaints, these sweet alarms, this anguished state of lovers, this suspense, this latent pain just beneath the surface, almost unexpressed, the thousand and one anxieties over the loved one's absence, this feeling of time rushing by, this touchiness, these fits of temper, these long daydreams, this childish fickleness of behaviour, this moral torture where vanity and self-esteem, or perhaps honor, upbringing and modesty are at stake, these highs and lows in the nervous tone, these leaps of the imagination, this fetishism, this cruel precision of the senses, whipping and probing the collapse, the prostration, the abdication, the self-abasement, the perpetual loss and recovery of one's personality, these stammered words and phrases, these pet names, this intimacy, these hesitations in physical contact, these epileptic tremors, these successive and ever more frequent relapses, this more and more turbulent and stormy passion with its ravages progressing to the point of complete inhibition and annihilation of the soul, the debility of the senses, the exhaustion of the marrow, the erasure of the brain and even the desiccation of the heart, this yearning for ruin, for destruction, for mutilation, this need of effusiveness, or adoration, of mysticism, this insatiability which expresses itself in hyper-irritability of the mucous membranes, in errant taste, in vasomotor and peripheral disorders, and which conjures up jealousy and vengeance, crimes, prevarications and treacheries, this idolatry, this incurable melancholy, this apathy, this profound moral misery, the definitive and harrowing doubt, this despair -- ... Blaise Cendrars, Moravagine

This translation from the impassioned French manages to extract some very felicitous phrases - the "cruel precision of the senses" the "definitive...doubt" - from Cendrars diatribe on love as masochism. He has torn apart the usual rules of grammar to create this long list. This has somehow entwined the feelings described to suggest that they all happen to a person at once, are all part of one thing, one enormous emotion. The rather strange use of exact medical terminology stems from the fact that Cendrars' narrator is a doctor.

I was absolutely stunned when I first read this section last summer. I immediately wanted to transcribe it for my blog and now, when I should be out exercising in our apartment's new gym, I have. It is a moving, poetic catalogue which wonderfully describes much of the angry frustration of being in love -- the need to assert, the need to subvert. A classic example of one of the highest achievements of literature. It makes you think. Do I agree with the writer on this issue? It makes you feel. I know what he means by "desiccation of the heart"... It makes you belong. Others have felt as I have felt. It makes you satisfied, its makes you feel you have gained something useful by reading and by trying to understand the writers great aim, his moral vision.

In Moravagine, written to shock, you probably shouldn't agree with his moral vision, but to understand it is to be a more complete human being.


In contrast, an example chosen at random:

They were on the floor of the storeroom.
Mother and Snake.
At first, Schofield just stared at them, stared at the scene.
Mother was stretched out on the floor, with her back up against one of the walls. She had her good leg extended across the room, pressed up against Snake's throat, pinning him to a thick wooden shelf filled with scuba tanks. Her boot was pressed hard against his throat, pushing his chin upwards, squeezing his face back against the sturdy wooden shelf. She also held her Colt automatic pistol cupped in her hands, extended in the perfect shooting position. Pointed right at Snakes's face.
The gaseous environment of the station obviously didn't bother her. Matt Reilly, Ice Station.

Reilly's grammar is totally fucked. It's comic-book grammar, Powerpoint grammar. Short sentences. Like camera instructions.

Mother was stretched out, while at the same time she was sitting up... Which is it? Inconsistency! She had her boot on Snake's throat which was lifting his chin up, at the same time his face was pressed against the shelf. Which is it? What part of the body is at the front? Face or throat? Both, obviously. Inconsistency!

"Perfect shooting position" - what a laugh. Hardly. She should be standing, faced obliquely to the target, one leg propped back for support, one hand under the forearm of the pistol-holding hand. That is the prefect shooting position, right? Should you believe me or him? Neither probably. We both have no idea except what we have seen in the movies. Reilly was educated as a lawyer, not an SAS marksman.

"Gaseous environment?" Did someone fart? Environment means "surrounding", so the building's environment means all the things natural and manmade, both INSIDE, OUTSIDE and NEARBY. Gaseous means made of gas. Was he saying is that the whole area around the station is made of some form of gas, some nebulous miasma incorporating the surrounding snow and ice, turning the whole area into some fuzzy ethereal vapour rather than actual SOLID snow and ice which we are otherwise asked to assume is actually there? Wrong, Matt: the environment is not gaseous, it is solid. In this case the gas he is attempting to talk about is in the atmosphere and it is confined to inside the station. Reilly should have really said, "the gaseous atmosphere within the station". What a lot of hot air.

Some may ask, Did I understand what he meant or not? as if merely accomplishing the minimum communication of intent and meaning was an acceptable excuse for sloppy writing. I understand what it means when a monkey pulls his dick too, but I don't want to subject myself to it for the purposes of entertainment...

I was absolutely stunned when I read this book. I felt like someone had scooped out my brain.

You see what happens when I read pulp? I just get all angry and annoyed and I fail to enjoy the ride.

I feel less of a human being because I read this book.



Posted by: expat@large on Jul 15, 06 | 2:06 pm | Profile


heh. heh heh. I see what you mean, but christ, if Cendrars wedged one more comma into that bloated paragraph the whole thing would collapse...

Posted by: MercerMachine on Jul 15, 06 | 7:38 pm

Um, that wasn't the end of the sentence... but that onslaught of catalogue was the point of the listing - like punch after punch after punch...

Posted by: expat@large on Jul 15, 06 | 7:54 pm

but eventually you're just punching a red, wet, mushy spot on the floor...

Posted by: MercerMachine on Jul 15, 06 | 8:12 pm

like in Fight Club?

Posted by: expat@large on Jul 15, 06 | 9:52 pm

More like Sin City. But in that case, it was That Yellow Bastard, and so not red mushy stuff, but yellow. Anyway, I understand what value you see in the excerpt. For you the whole point is the overkill. For me, it just sort of morphs into the "whoh-whoh-whoh" of adult voices in Charlie Brown cartoons.

Hey, does that mean I'm still a kid?

Posted by: MercerMachine on Jul 15, 06 | 10:31 pm

Yup. Kidsville.

Thought of the day: The difference between old people and young people? Old people have been young for a lot longer...

But back to Cendrars: its not *just* overkill, it's not random free-thought, stream-of-conscious, word association, anyone could do that (sorry JAJ) - it's overkill with a magnificent skill in words, rhythm, ideas and imagery. Each phrase could be a book in itself (this phrase in Anna Karenina, this phrase is Madame Bovary, this phrase is The Red and The Black) yet here they all are in this... condensation... that's real power.

Or maybe I am talking myself into this. Maybe I've had too many chocolate bars and they've affected my brain...

Maybe I should go out and get a girlfriend.

Posted by: expat@large on Jul 15, 06 | 11:03 pm

That last comment is the truest stetement I have read on this blog for a long time...

...maybe we all should.

Posted by: Indiana on Jul 16, 06 | 3:22 am

ha ha, don't I know it...

But that would signify the end of the blog. I'd have soemthing to do...

Posted by: expat@large on Jul 16, 06 | 1:24 pm


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