I originally heard about Gaddis in an interview with David Foster Wallace – which alone is a good Rx, the same way I learned of Alice Munro – but didn’t read any Gaddis until a friend recommended The Recognitions a few weeks ago.
Every character in this book is grappling with the predicament of post-modernity, grappling (usually with little success) with a search for meaning. The typical outcomes: insanity, pursuit of money via the heartless exploitation of others, or indulgence in drugs, alcohol, consumerism, and empty social chatter.
Some of my favorite bits…
11017 —And that it isn’t just expiation, but . . . that’s why it is crucial, because this is the only way we can know ourselves to be real, is this moral action, you understand don’t you, the only way to know others are real . . . A wave of nausea rose through her body, and Esther gripped the corner of the night table behind her, swaying a little, swallowing again. —If we had had a child . . . she murmured. —Yes, if we … —And you understand it, his voice came on at her, —this moral action, it isn’t just talk and -. . . words, morality isn’t just theory and ideas, that the only way to reality is this moral sense . . . —Stop it! she cried out. —Stop it! … She caught herself, and took up the handkerchief again quickly for saliva was running from the corner of her mouth beyond the apprehension of her swallowing. —Moral sense! she repeated loudly at him. —Do you think women have a moral sense? Do you think women have . . . any morals? that . . . that women can afford them? —Esther . . . He started toward her round the end of the bed. —Oh no! she said. —No! Do you know how much she has to protect? and every minute more? And you make these things up, and force them on her, men take their own guilt, and call it moral sense and oppress her with it in the name of …
11023 the only well-educated person, because you never went to college, and you resent education, you resent social ease, you resent good manners, you resent success, you resent any kind of success, you resent God, you resent Christ, you resent thousand-dollar bills, you resent Christmas, by God, you resent happiness, you resent happiness itself, because none of that’s real. What is real, then? Nothing’s real to you that isn’t part of your own past, real life, a swamp of failures, of social, sexual, financial, personal, . . . spiritual failure. Real life. You poor bastard. You don’t know what real life is, you’ve never been near it. All you have is a thousand intellectualized ideas about life. But life? Have you ever measured yourself against anything but your own lousy past? Have you ever faced anything outside yourself? Life! You poor bastard. Benny started to laugh. He knocked an empty glass from the end of the couch, and Ellery put a hand on his shoulder. The stubby poet had come up beside the man at the other end of the couch, who was silent, looking at Benny, and the sneer almost squeezed from his face. Most of the people in the room were aware that something was happening, and had half turned, giving it half their attention, waiting to see if it deserved all. Benny started to stand up. —Come on, we’ll get a drink, Ellery said to him, an arm across his shoulders. —All right, Benny said. Then suddenly he swung around again. —Go on, you lush, said the stubby poet; but Benny did not regard him. He stood over the man who as quickly recovered his sneer to look up. —How do you make your living? Benny demanded. —Come on, Benny. Leave the poor bastard alone. —I just asked how he makes his living. —The hell with him. Come on, Ellery said. —I just want to know how he makes his living, is there anything wrong with that? —He’s a critic. He writes about books, or some God damn thing. Now come on. But Benny pulled from Ellery’s grasp on his shoulder. —How long is it since you’ve seen the sun rise? he demanded. Then he went on, —How you would have done it. That’s the way everything is, isn’t it. How you would have done it. Not how it should have been done, but how you would have done it. When you criticize a book, that’s the way you work, isn’t it. How you would have done it, because vou didn’t do it, because you’re still afraid to admit that you can’t do it yourself. —Ellery, please . . . stop him, Esther said, in a low voice beside Ellery. He turned and looked at her, and he did, just then, have an expression very much like Benny’s, one of tense impatience, which in that instant of exchange between them seemed to direct every- thing Benny had said, and was saying, at her. Everyone, within the bounds of what each considered either manners or sophistication, was watching; and most were watching the man on the couch. —Oh Chrahst I remember him, he’s the guy that married Deedee Jaqueson, and they kicked her out of the little black book for it. Chrahst, what a coincidence, Ed Feasley commented. Rudy consoled a frightened group in one corner, with, —You know, he’s the kind who knows art but doesn’t know what he likes. Don Bildow watched apprehensively from the other side of the room, where he had retired, and did not see Anselm who watched, silent and attentive. Mr. Feddle, clutching a book, had gained the front row. The back of Maude’s neck was being manipulated by strong fingers, stronger perhaps but not so vigorous as those twisting Stanley’s hand. He looked at Agnes and looked away quickly, as though afraid to provoke the tension in her face to burst in confidence to him. A high voice broke the silence as Benny paused for breath. —So there! And that goes for your cat too! It was the Duchess of Ohio, who scurried back to cover. The tall woman told someone that she and her husband were going to Spain in the spring, though she had hoped to be in Hawaii right now; someone said, —She rubs you the right way, does she? talking to someone else about someone else; Sonny Byron said, —Wake up, baby, the floor show’s over, and stroked Arny Munk’s forehead; the author of the best seller Trees of Home, who had kept his back turned to the room all this time, pretending conversation with Mr. Crotcher who was singing, said, to someone else, —How can I respect my readers when I know they’re just trying to get a cheap psychoanalysis at my expense? and was told that they probably thought that he was getting one at theirs; the dark man in the sharkskin suit said, —Yes, I was warned about this sort of thing in New York. Now about these battleships … —A dreadful crime she did commit, did all the world surprise, sang Mr. Crotcher to the baby, whose chin rested on his shoe, which he jarred in approximate 2/4 time. —Black beetles in walnut shells … —And that dumb bastard’s starting in again. Ellery was holding Benny tight by one shoulder. —Come on, relax, forget the dumb bastard, he said. —Come on, Benny, take this. He held a full glass up, and Benny took it, and drank it down steadily and carefully. Then the empty glass hung in his hand like a weight. —Get where I am, and then you can be bitter, Benny mumbled, staring into one of the few empty spaces in that room. —Do you 604
11233 —And that, Ellery mumbled, going on despite the floodlit applause. —His face, I just keep seeing those beads of sweat on his face, understand? like a God-damned wreath of … beads of sweat around his forehead, do you get me? —Tonight we have with us that famous star of stage and screen . . . Spotlights fought each other over the surface of blank faces. —It’s a little late, but I know everybody still has some of the Xmas spirit . . . how about a word of Xmas cheer for everybody . . . ? Hanging onto the microphone, the star entertained: —Merry Xmas everybody. Glad to see everybody making merry. Just watch out Mary don’t go home with somebody else. He paused for laughter, and breath, swaying. —It was the most beautiful Xmas I ever saw . . . when I got up Xmas morning … it looked so nice out I left it out all day … —That bastard! —I’ve got a broad waiting for me down at the Fritz-Carlton . . . the star babbled on. —That bastard! He killed it! said the Alabama Rammer-Jammer man, but neither of his companions appeared to notice. Ellery was trying to sit up straight and drink. Morgie stared dully into his glass. —Look, what did Schmuck’s number-one boy want over there, when you stopped and talked to them. —They made me an offer. Ellery’s shoulders sagged again. —The life of the Virgin Mary. They’re shooting it in Italy. They want me on publicity. —Look Ellery, for Christ sake, you’re a swell guy. I’d hate like hell to see you get mixed up with the movies. —What the hell, Ellery said. —You have to make a change once in a while. —A change? You think it’s going to be any different out there? It’s the same goddam thing only it’s worse. Here at least you know the people you work with, they know who you are, you got friends. Out there nobody knows you. Morgie was staring at the same blank place on the tablecloth where Ellery was staring. —You got to stop trading in some time. You trade in your goddam car, you trade in your goddam wife, and the minute you get used to the goddam thing some bastard puts out a new model. Just go to the goddam bank. Eye-bank. Blood-bank. Bone-bank. —That’s a nice idea for a show, the old Alabama Rammer-Jammer man interrupted. —Banks as a symbol of progress. Money-banks. Bone-banks. Eye-banks. Blood-banks. —We just bought a canned show on the march of science, Morgie said, speaking slowly. Neither of them had raised his eyes. The plaintive quality in Morgie’s voice was that defiant disappoint-ment in the radio voice which has predicted clear only hours before, and returns to admit the possibility of scattered showers un-humbled by the fact that his listeners are staring through closed windows at driving rain. —Did you know that a handkerchief and a cannonball fall at the same goddam speed in a vacuum? Well that’s where we are, in this great big goddam vacuum where a handkerchief and a cannonball fall at the same goddam speed, you know what I mean? Their companion was watching the floor, the hollow plastic figurine clutched in his hand. H is thumb moved from one salt vent to the other and the lights dimmed again and went out. A ghostly emanation took their place, withholding reality, as an undelineated naked woman came forth, a pair of pink hands described in phosphorescence cupping her buttocks, which she ground at her audience as though the heavy hands of love (fleeting, groping, failing under other tables in the darkness) were kneading them in orgiastic violence. —He’s on, said Mr. Schmuck’s assistant to Mr. Schmuck. Then he turned to Mr. Schmuck’s musical director. —You’re right. Verk-lärte . . . — You’re right. Walpurgis . . . Mr. Schmuck’s musical director commenced. —Shut up, said Mr. Schmuck, —so 1 could see the lady dancing. Out there, she turned and bobbed an undulant front, blossoming at its tips in phosphorescent roses. —What do you want to get mixed up in that for? It’s the same goddam handkerchief and the same goddam cannonball in the same goddam vacuum. —Travel, Ellery muttered. —See why the other half lives. Six months: Elmira was one postmark, and her lips formed the words silently. The marking on the other letter was indecipherable, though the stamps were Spanish, and she held it up to the light, lips tightening as nothing interrupted the translucency but the jumble of a florid hand. There was no return on it. She put it aside, and took the first letter with her on her trip across the room, there to press it up under her armpit as she adjusted the radio with one hand, and tuned in her new hearing aid with the other. Then she sat down, resting her head back, lips twitching again on “six months,” the letter gripped still unopened in her hand as the radio warmed up to Sweet Betsy from Pike sung in Yiddish, and she stared at a crack in the ceiling. By daylight, the crack appeared to have just lengthened another whole inch or even more, and Stanley almost bounded out of bed for his string measure. Then he sank back under the blanket (his sheet was packed), closed his jaws tight on the throbbing tooth to hold off the image it conjured as well as the pain, and then lay waiting, as though for instructions from above on something near at hand which he could not quite grasp, and with little time remaining him to do so. His forehead creased with the effort of trying to think clearly what it might be, and as the effort rose to that part of his face his jaws relaxed and immediately the pain in the tooth penetrated him sharply, and the image, close upon it, intruded. Within the half hour, he was wandering among hospital corridors. —But baby, taking that one to Ischia would be like taking an ow-wel to A-thens, he heard, approaching her door, and he stopped. —And don’t permit me to leave without the key to my box, all those brrrr-beautiful things, I just couldn’t show up over there na-ked. He heard someone say, —Agnes, I’m glad you’re all right . . . and then, —Baby do you call that all rwight? all strung up like an exhibi-bition in a shop window! Cru-wel boy! Stanley stood there, after a glimpse at the group round her bed, pressing the deep pain in his jaw, listening. —Arny baby you must try to stand up, or they’ll put you in a little box here and you’ll never never never see the normal outside world again. Arny-marney-tiddley-parney, what have you got in your pocket? Then he heard her voice, giving someone an address, her mother’s address, on the Via Flaminia in Rome. —Rubbing alcohol! You should be spanked! Stanley turned away with sudden resolution: he had heard of there being a chapel in Bellevue, and set off to look for it, rescued from the prospect of actually seeing her, by the more abiding, and surely more prudent reflection, that he might burn a candle for her recovery. And he was well on the way to doing so, moving through the corridors with apprehension, as though afraid of being hustled into a ward, or a straitjacket, himself. But as he came down that hall, where the three western faiths have their depots, he was stopped dead by an apparition in a red and white candy-stripe bathrobe emerging from the synagogue, her face so abruptly familiar, delicately intimate in the sharp-boned hollow-eyed virginity of unnatural shadows, like those priestesses ot Delphos in subterranean silence transfixing what might have been fear on a face in the light but there paralyzed in prophecy (until one of them was raped: then they were replaced by women over fifty). —Hello, Stan-ley, she greeted him as she had always, as a stranger whom she knew. —But … I didn’t kno\v you were . . . Jewish? he said, and looked even more surprised, having meant to say, —I didn’t know you were here . . . —It is so beautiful in there, she said, and smiled, as one foretelling death by falling pillars, death at sea. Zealous, importunate, he pressed her. —But here? he recovered. —She has always been just here, but just here, Stan-ley, she said to him; and then lowered her eyes and turned her face away. —But now they are going to send her away. —When? he asked quickly. —Yesterday, or today, so soon. She looked at him, in an instant looked about to cry. —Where? Stanley asked her; but she looked at him. —Wait, he said, and started to speak rapidly. —You, you see you can come with me, yes, can’t you, you can come with me. He took her wrist, and she looked at him. —You see because . . . yes and then everything, then you’ll be save . . . safe I mean, you’ll be safe . . . Now . . . wait, first . . . He pressed the pain in his jaw, as though to communicate its urgency. —This, I have to take care of this first, I have to go to a dentist but then I’ll come back and we, and you’ll be … all right. You see I … we’re going away . . . The question lay only in his eyes, searching the large still pupils of hers. After that he moved with compulsive certainty. And only on going through the pales outside, pressing his jaw but carrying his head up, and passing the delegation which had forestalled his intended visit, he remembered that he had not asked for his glasses and then, that he had not lit a candle. —Arny-parney-tiddly-marney, he passed quickly, —stand up! What ever made you try and telephone your wife, even if the line was busy? The telephone was still ringing when Maude got in. She’d heard it from the hall, and almost broke her key trying to fit it in upside-down. —Yes, what? she said breathlessly into it, —I? Me? … As she spoke her eyes rose slowly to meet those of the figure gently swinging in the bedroom door. —But you . . . why did you choose me? she brought out finally. —But no, no … no, she cried, and even with the last word the telephone was back silent where she’d got it, and she stood with her weight on it staring and still, as though supported by those eyes which held her across the room. It was only in wilting, as the energy which the telephone, so long silent, had flooded her with, ebbed away, and she came to rest in her spinal support with a twinge, that the bond of their eyes broke, and she ducked round the suspended figure, into the bedroom to take off her coat. And the baby hung there, sitting silent in a sort of breeches buoy which she had made from a pair of Amy’s shorts and some cord, a breeches buoy pulling neither to ship nor shore, moving gently, never more than enough to intensify the repose of its occupant whose only activity was to fix Maude and hold her with clear blue eyes. In the bedroom she stood looking vacantly at the thing curled on the dresser top: only that morning, trying to find her bank in the telephone directory, she had come helplessly upon the Guarantee Truss Company, thrown the book down, and never called to find what remained of her tiny bank balance. And here the thing lay, a circle of swathed steel tapered, to broaden an end in a cushion which rose just enough from the top of the chest to liken it to an open hood, and the whole tensely coiled length a cobra in devious wait: and she hurried past it jabbing a hand to the light switch. The kitchen sink was stacked with dishes. On her way in there with the baby, she tripped over a pair of Arny’s shoes which she kept out, empty, in the middle of the floor. —The most popular hostess of the week . . . ! she said in a faint tone as she washed, first a dish, then a tiny foot, then a cup. —They telephoned me to ask me if I would like to g-give a luncheon for my . . . and they would bring everything and do all the work and afterward s-serve . . . s-sell their lunchware to my . . . my . . . And I asked them how they picked me and she said we blindfolded a girl, and found your name in a telephone book, it’s a great . . . a great honor to be … to be chosen the most . . . The eyes did not move from her. The baby’s head was not conical nor, looking at it, did one have that impression; but immediately upon looking away such an image formed in the mind, and no amount of looking back, of studying it from strategic angles, served to temper the placid image which remained. When most of the dishes were done she had reached the neck, and suddenly she applied both thumbs at the base of the baby’s head. —It should go in more here, she whispered, then applied the heel of a hand there, and finally stepped back and turned away from the fixed gaze as though breaking fetters. She left the baby there in the sink with what dishes remained and went into the living room, where she turned the radio on, tripped again over the empty shoes, and stood thoughtfully for a moment before she picked up the telephone and dialed, reading the number of the druggist written on a bottle in her hand. —Friends, the time to sell your diamonds is now … —Hello? Could I buy some morphine from you? What? No, I mean just some plain morphine . . . ? It was a long struggle, as though the image itself were holding him back in the chair while the dentist worked. And there was time for the agony of remorse, since Stanley had simply got off the cross-town bus and gone to the first dentist whose sign he saw, up a flight, someone he had never heard of and who had, surely, never heard of him. They strained and tugged at one another, Stanley at the chair, Doctor Weisgail at Stanley, and the longer it went on the more alarmed Stanley became, for the dentist seemed in an unsettled state himself. He had heavy arms, was in need of a shave, and perspired freely in his white coat. And then, while Stanley still lay back, gripping the arms of the chair in a rigidity of concentrated terror, he heard a voice and opened his eyes to see the thing held before him in a pair of heavy pincers. —Is it out? he tried to say, —Is that it? But he could not control that side of his mouth. Nonetheless he asked for it when he left, to take with him wrapped in gauze and a piece of newspaper. Out on the street, the dead side of his tongue nudged the numb hollow on his jaw, and he stopped to spit blood in the gutter. Passers-by glanced at him with distaste, the contempt bred of Fourteenth Street’s familiarity with such exhibitions, for he made a bad job of it, a stream blown against his chin, hung dripping from the uncontrollable side of his mouth, for he had no handkerchief. In the window above, Doctor Weisgail watched him stagger, collide with a trashbin, a child, another staggering figure who tried to embrace him as a companion in arms, and finally disappear from sight. Then he took off his white coat and stood there rubbing his chin for a minute. Then as though he had put off for long enough some alien, fortuitous, but no less constraining duty, he picked up the letter he had received that morning, opened it, and stared at its pages as he called the police to report this anonymous persecution: Dear Doctor Weisgail. The I, what does it stand for? your first name, what is it? The book I am going to write will be called Flowers of Friendship, because do you re-member Before the flowers of friendship faded friendship faded, well that is what my book will be about. We are the great refusal, doctor. Why do they love us and trust us for all the wrong reasons, reasons often we know nothing about and then they are disappointed. They are always disappointed. Sometimes I want to just stop, just stop everything and thank everyone. What they do, they free us when they betray us. Is that too easy, doctor? Is it because we can share a part of Ourself with each one we know, the part he demands for the rest we do not offer because he would not recognize the rest and more important even would not believe it is us, so we think better perhaps to simply put it away and do not bother him with it. Then see him, with all his might and main and all of his necessity he builds a whole Us out of his fragment, an Us we may have trouble to recognize too but respond kindly to it but better fearsomely, better beware and afraid for one day he will face us with it and then who can say, This is not us at all, why he has depended upon that Us he made with such loving care did he not? Oh surprised he is and disappointed! How we failed how we failed! He is angry and deeply hurt, betrayed! Betrayed! Do not trust Us, flowers of friendship. All the while we search beyond him for what he thinks he has offered so honest, so honest is he, so honest. Finding in him and everywhere some where where we may share a part but no more, is there anyone you can share nothing with? Is there then who you can share everything with? No no no no— but they do not understand. There were too many of them, doctor. There, there, you see? Your kindness is hypocrisy. They gave you everything, he shared everything he had with you. Did you ask him? No, he gave it so honest is he and so sincere. And some day he finds, you never did accept from inside do you understand? Only outside like a handshake you accepted. He is angry and reduced, not for you now but of you then who pretended to share, and did not share but gave, and gave in the giving only a fragment in exchange you see. How little of us ever meets how little of another. As one day he recalls his confidence to you as weakness, and to cast it out he will cast you away because you did accept it from him, so you served him well, and he is older now, and better unfriendship and weakness so cauterized than friendship which remembers. Why after this long time have you not answered me? What do you demand? Why do you treat me as they do, as though I were exactly what I want to be. Why do we treat people that way? But we do, everyone treats anyone that way, saying I have had these defeats and disappointments, but you whom I encounter you know what you will say, moving, in accord with your nature which is here in bloom, but I do not yet understand, I, for myself, do not yet understand. Since my problems are not yours therefore you must have none, but live alone inside yourself, therefore here are my problems and we shall share them. So honest are they, picking the flowers with such ease and such concern. If you have walked out in a summer night, you will understand this, walked out with your face bared to the darkness and then, a spider’s web hung heavy with moisture between magnolia and the yew claps its sodden delicacy over your face, then you will know what I mean. Here, he makes friendship in spite of things, worming confidences as they say, he does lose no opportunity to find your frailties, where you fail and how weak, nor lose opportunity to make you know he knows these, at last to lose no opportunity to assure you of his friendship in spite of them, and always in spite of them and so how fortunate you are to have him a friend! feebly saying nice things about you behind your back. Or elsewhere, never live at the end of a straight road lest you be always looking down it. There in the distance two meet and do battle, where are you? They do battle about you, faded, faded, One says, That is my friend, but you and I are so different, that That cannot be your friend too, then each says secretly, if That is his friend That cannot be my friend too, then they look at one another saying this, We are so different (they say because they do not know each other) that That can be friend to neither of us, but shall be our common hypocrite, and nevertheless and recognized now must be thanked nevertheless for bringing us together and we, being different we shall be friends but honest friends, for you see there are things we do not share. O doctor, how the meek presume. Then why after so long have you not answered me? It is forbidden to enter the garden with flowers in the hand. That was a sign in french at the gate of a french garden, you see, and read it well and you will understand. As though to understand were to forgive! We find the ones with whom we can share nothing. Oh, hold them up and cherish them for they will never come saying, I have found you out! Oh. Oh. They will, doctor. Even they, they will come saying, I have found you out! for from the first you knew we had nothing to share, and that is what we shared, not the nothing but the knowing we had nothing, that I shared with you, but, you, what did you give me in exchange but the nothing: I have found you out! They will murder you for that they will. So good doctor do a favor to your friends and go away and die and so unite them. It is all going to get much worse before it begins to get better, doctor. Glowing they gave you things you did not want, their scarcest treasure. We will not tell, we will not tell, until one day they take it all and nail it frabjously upon another, and your betrayal will be another nail in the coffin of love. The satisfaction of being found out. It is a very relaxing satisfaction. Oh I have read so much, doctor. So many sensitive things, how sensitive they are, the ones who do not suffer. They wish themselves very well, sincere people. Not with trumpets, doctor, but I see the Lord of Hosts putting his enormous head round a promontory on the northeast end of the Island where a point rises from the water, and here all of us are on the beach, somewhat sheltered. They will all know what to do, the others on the beach, for they will recognize Him and follow some satisfactory prescription but doctor you and I, what will we do but look surprised, look up from a paper-backed edition of something that sold well twenty years ago, or the serial story with no beginning and no end in a magazine found on the veranda, the sole of a beach shoe needing mending, that or the cigarette lighter which won’t work for the sand in it or the face of the dollar watch we always take there which tells the time with sand in it, look up and look surprised and mildly so at that. You and I doctor, on the beach. He speaks of you and wonders where you are. Calls you Indy, in his selfish voice which is mild with disappointment. Why are the meek so selfish? You would be surprised how important bars are to people who don’t read books, doctor. Sometimes I could weep, and other times I do. I remember The Deserter, a drama acted by dogs and a monkey at Sadlers Wells in 1785, and I could weep. I remember Freddies Football Dogs, and I could weep. I remember the round of names, names taken from popular books for naming of children, and taken back from them grown-up for books which no one reads, and I could weep. Somewhere in Africa I believe they made a mermaid from a monkey and a codfish, I have seen its photograph. I remember the dampness there. I remember cherries in a blue ceramic dish, specked with water and mold, the cigarettes were delicate to smoke, specks of brown appeared on the white paper as it burned, and left a wet line on the stone tray and all the while the green working outside like a blanket, the grass, honeysuckle, clematis, ferns, tall weeds including Queen Anne’s laces, the rosebush and the blackberry out of control without flowers or fruit so busy growing, and tomatoes fallen into the high grass, cobwebs formed and hanging heavy with dampness, the clothes clinging with dampness and without stockings the shoes hollow and damp. Every surface needed paint, and the damp wires sent elec-tricity free through the lampstands. Dust worked into pages of the books left open for them. We invited them, they did not come but they re-membered the gesture. Doctor, eventually the importance of breeding. Do you remember Rue Gît le Coeur? What did he say? What did she say? Three of them are there, which is intolerable. Witness three must leave the room so that ambiguity may enter, and in such company one talks assuredly to two since they are now safely alone with mistrust. Names are very important. How can you deal seriously with a person named—? they ask me. If I owed you money, then you would be interested in me, then you would follow my career with interest. I have thought of that, doctor. For upon contraction of debts, you must expect to pay. You will have to, and probably in a way worse in proportion to the ease and faith with which they were contracted. Do you understand her, doctor? Raped across three state lines, in a back seat in her uncle’s car for her uncle with whom she lived was dead on the kitchen floor, raped in an empty movie house and in a cornfield where the police finally cornered him and killed him with a hail of bullets and rescued her, she protested, I only wanted Romance, doctor. And even then no matter how you love, you cannot repay the debts contracted in the loved one’s past, nor interfere with how the loved one tries to repay them. But you must pay, you do though you cannot. Doctor, your honesty’s showing. Well then, do you know the worst thing? When he confirms your accusa-tions. You accused him, then how violently he sets upon you to prove otherwise, then you can do no more than stand and watch, in spite of himself watch him work out all of the things of which you accused him and did you, all the while, hope he would prove you wrong? Watch him unable to leave the scene without making it worse, and the more he insists upon his right the more he disintegrates it until it ends in all he feared most, he recreates and proves you right. How helpless you are when you are right. For hard times and difficulty do not make a stronger person as they told us children, good fortune makes him stronger but the others make him weaker and more crafty you see, and they make his circumstances which when good fortune comes he will resist by making circumstances which will make him what he is neither good nor strong. That is what happens from hard times and disaster. Those bad circumstances are the only ones where we can recognize ourselves, and when good fortune comes away, away, we cannot face it, to see ourselves abroad in good fortune and there is no alternative, there is none but in the face of good fortune to flee, and in the terrifying comfort of solitude find the devices to con-struct the familiar landscape of bad fortune where we step forth in certainty, so it mounts, gets worse and in spite of ourselves we see our-selves more fully and there we are precious again. What would I have done in his place? People say that, and they mean it because they do not understand it. Sometimes I clean my pocketbook, and that is a wonderful feeling though a task. That is why I do not telephone you, telephones are dangerous things, they separate us from one another and is that simply because we put them to the wrong use? Human, we treat them as we treat others, take for granted services to which they did not pretend. But we force telephones to corrupt intimacy while they pretend to preserve it by keeping alive only its dangerous immediate symptoms. Say a word, say a thousand to me on the tele-phone and I shall choose the wrong one to cling to as though you had said it after long deliberation when only I provoked it from you, I will cling to it from among a thousand, to be provoked and hurl it back with something I mean no more than you meant that, something for you to cling to and retreat clinging to. There, now we are apart! Doctor? That is why I did not telephone you, send only a symptomatic fragment of me to you in my voice where you cannot see my face but instead sit and stare upon matters of your own intimate self arranged like furniture but not my face which I have been so long in forming for just this moment, writing you a letter where you will see my face doctor and all of me laid out, what can I give you more for forgiveness? That’s all right, we serve them better than they know, if only we exist for them to reject, for they do not understand as you and I do, doctor, and to be certain of accepting one thing they must reject another. I remember, we serve them well. Many of them must make you unhappy before you will take them seriously, so honest are they. Do you remem-ber envy when it called itself admiration? We serve them well, icons of their desperate and idle manufacture, and Oh! when we betray them by being other selves, and the icon is broken, doctor, do they grow? Or fashion it again and elsewhere, so detailedly the same, different only enough to prevent their recognizing it for what betrayed them once. We serve them well, doctor. That is what I did, ex-tended my vanity where I thought it would be held in trust, and found it taken with desperate seriousness in all the confidence that envy en-genders. Then you have accepted a confidence, and laid ground for mistrust. Do you read, doctor? Do you read so far? Are you, too, always certain that you have found the answer at hand, demanding it so, articulate and incarnate? and then you are betrayed? and who betrayed you? How many have you around you, who have never feared you? nor mistrusted you for fear of your being more than one? How many who will share what can be shared but do not fear to expose, simply expose without confidence, nor the secret sharer, those other things which must be worked out alone in privacy, knowing they exist but respecting you for respecting that privacy as the matter of fact indeed it is, doctor have I trapped you? Are you there, an island in their past, afloat, or a rock shoal, and sailing back do they sight you with cries of happiness and recognition? Indeed, do they cruise back just to reach you, to land and enter the same pleasance with recognition even delight, share it with others who have languored there, or meet those others upon the beach and do battle? Or cruising somewhere else beyond do they sight you casually, remark your presence with a smile, or do they mark you severely upon the chart and sail by far to leeward and out of sight, to meet further on others bound forward and warn them of your dangers where you lie in the past there though it is for these bound forward the future and they will set their course accordingly. Or sailing back do they sail past however near or far offshore with a shrug and a glance of dismissal recalling nothing but an arid coast. Or do you float, as they told us the Sargasso Sea floats partly under the surface and none is certain exactly where, necessitating vigilance and uncertain anxious care. Have you ever thought about this, that right now this instant every one of them is somewhere being real? The Pope and the President and also certain surviving kings, the people whose secrets we know and the ones of whom we know no more than the newspaper confides, all the people you have met and all the people you will meet, and all you have never met and will never meet, all of them they are somewhere now right this instant being real. Even when you are not talking about them, not thinking about them perhaps not even remembering them in spite of these insults they are somewhere being real. As though they did not care! At the very same instant they are being real right now. It is too much to comprehend that, still they dare it, but it is too much. From the train window I see places I have never been, a street corner with the streetlamp on one evening in New Britain Connecticut, and I wept. For it is worse being alone without someone than just being alone. Why I remember green, that color, when color was more than itself, green at sundown after a rain when it was blinding with life, doctor should I have been a drunkard or a nun, for they will not love us as we want to be loved, and a nun or a singer, a singer or a child, doctor or only unborn? For when she lay alone making love, do you think as that ring slipped round her finger, and breathing in the feverish dark do you think she fancied his breath upon her? visioned his beauty? or her own, and only the beautiful woman she will be— Now you have tricked me! coming into the garden so, carrying cut flowers in your hand. In spite of the prohibition which even you could not help but see, so you were deliberate? Yes, I understand, why you cannot forgive, love and forgive, if forgiving restores our innocence and being loved confirms the beautiful things we want to be, and loving is always forgiving that we are not. Why love is divine, because only divinity can restore innocence. You knew the secret I had, didn’t you, coming in with a nosegay, love-in-a-mist, love-in-idleness, love-lies-bleeding, you knew the worst thing didn’t you. But there wasn’t time. The honeysuckle grew and covered everything like a blanket and smothered it. The grape arbor collapsed, not with the weight of the fruit for the birds had taken the grapes away, but under the weight of the vines. I remember the holly trees, where the female stood alone out on the front lawn, and the male cringed away upwind, did you know that doctor? Everything grew too fast then, it was no use trying to keep it down. Everything grew too fast. But in reading it, the hand had defeated its own purpose: for those lines written in frantic haste took time to interpret; while it was quick work to go through those written with careful painful pauses, written slowly, to compel the reader to read slowly and attentively, a habit she might have made in conversation. —Plain morphine, doctor? —Better give her a half-grain. —I don’t think there’s any on this floor. We’ve been using Pan-topon. —All right. A forty-milligram dose. —Surgery recommended Trilene, with an inhaler? . . . —To hell with Surgery. —Yes doctor. And now . . . the nurse went on, turning, —Miss Deigh, or Mrs. Deigh, Mrs. or Miss? . . . which is it? I’ll just bet it’s Mrs. she said coyly, seeing a letter there on the night table addressed Mrs. The letter was from an insurance company, to inform her that upon receipt of her signature on the enclosed waiver, they would make payable to her the sum of twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000.00) in life insurance on her husband, who had fallen off a bar stool in Hollywood. —And wasn’t that an interesting young man that came to visit you tonight! Why, I think I could turn into a Buddhist myself with him to talk to me. The Four Noble Trutas! and the Eightfold Noble Path! Why, life is suffering, isn’t it … you just try to lie still now. The nurse finished tidying up the bed and went out of this private room, where the patient had just been moved, mumbling, as she passed a ward, —But to say suffering is caused by desire? . . . and that story he told about Bishop . . . Whutley? . . . which she repeated to the nurse in the drug room, —And so this Bishop says to the man praying there in front of this little wheel, who are you praying to and what are you praying for my good man? and the man says, I’m not praying to anybody and I’m not praying for nothing … But that nurse shrugged her shoulders too, handed over the prescribed Pantopon, and went back to straightening the gay handkerchief pinned to h ;r blouse, and untangling the plain gold cross whose chain had got caught on a button. The night nurse paused on her return to reprimand a shapeless figure huddled half out of bed in the dark to receive this confidence from a low-tuned radio,—Another case of homicide. And so for really top-notch entertainment, listen in … —All right now Mister Jenner, tomorrow’s another day. And she carried her cheer, and the drug and a clean glass back to the private room. She turned on a bright light and started to speak, but the whistle of a boat, very near on the river, startled her, and she waited, pouring water into the clean glass on the nighí table, beside the flowers. —Isn’t this the nicest plant! she said, and her patient turned: until that moment the anthurium had really looked rather obscene. About the only person whom the blasts of the whistle did not intimidate into silence was Arny: it brought him round just enough to raise his head, and speak for the first time in two hours. He said it was getting late, and he thought he should call his wife. But he did not speak distinctly, and the blasts of departure drowned out every other sound. He was part of a gay throng on a promenade deck, where someone fluttered up to ask, —Where’s Rwu-dy? —Baby you’ll find that one in the bridal suite. Alone. The whistle blasted them into silence again. Arny alerted, and spoke. Up above, the tall woman said, —My God, what do you suppose we’ve got next door this trip . . . will you listen to that? . . . pouring-on party? 764
– Get The Recognitions