Chapter 10: The Expulsion
Claudette’s childhood from years ago drives back towards the village. It is raining as he crosses into the vast tangled off-roads that lead down to the shore. Latterly he has treaded gently, some days with boots in hand, a big bag slung over his hypothetical shoulder blades, pulling the bitterness of everything by the tail far from the terrible light.
What was he carrying with him? Across the grass and cobbles, the long strides amongst the trees?
It had been years ago when he and Claudette had been an item. Since then he had had the disease. It had been creeping around for years. A slow and weird kind of strange farewells, stirrings, hauntings and abandonments, both done and done unto, as they used to say.
It had grown a dark baby in his kidney, a strange kind of mouth of life, a black swell, a wee nanny extremity. One day he’d woken up to find he couldn’t move without excruciating pain. By the time he’d got to the toilet bowl he knew something was bad. There was blood hauling from him green pennies of anxiety.
He reckoned that now, if this was to be his unconscionable ending, then he had been a disappointment. If only a thought would succeed the last. What he wanted was something to hold on to. A succession would have helped him. But the thoughts wouldn’t come not withstanding his reputation.
What he could do was hang on to the talk of families and so on from people with very few notions and brush up on hope. He lay awaiting sedation wondering how to formulate his last words, just in case it turned out like that. Because at this point he was still in the energy of normal everyday working routines and not capable of rising to higher stuff which was what the situation clearly required really.
This seems to be true all the time was what he’d later think.
All the time we’re supposed to be looking at death and goodness but we can’t really concentrate on them for more than a moment. It’s just that we get distracted by deplorable habits and the wide streets and toothaches.
In fact we seem to work hard to avoid being distracted, thus causing a distraction of quite a striking and paradoxical kind. Everything keeps going at the same level and we feel there’s nothing but prententiousness when we go about bigger things. The fog won't lift, it seems.
Stop being pretentious! He howls, as if the suffering of Proust at the hands of Gide, Ortega, Cocteau, Curtius, Feuillerat and their perturbations, dislocations, conjunctions, their galley sheets and evocaturs, their embalmings and scavangings, stupifications and indeterminations, parabolas and trajectories, reproaches and antics, withdrawn compte rendu and ostentatious bacon sizzle now were the only abominations he could memorise in their horrendous dribs and drabs .
And we think they’re windy and boring and somehow wanting to show that they’re doing something we can’t imagine because of a hierarchy they’ve bought or invented, like Swann to Odette or Mme de Villeparisis to Jupien, say. It's the way their talking walks, stiff and wide as if high on the depths.
'We're just moths and a kind of weather,' he surmised with a sort of reproach to whosoever was to blame for this sorry state.
We suspect there’s a master narrative being used against us. We can’t quite see how it works but that’s because we ‘re not so infected by any creditable acts of integration. So we can feel a bit pissed off and if pushed we get narky. It’s a funny sort of seething we do at this stage because we don’t want to be fooled notr embarrassed and we always have a worry that we’ve messed up and got everything wrong, taken the Velasquez to be Mazo, and our snobbery breached.
Maybe it’s a joke all this deep stuff and we’re supposed to get it and laugh but with an inward slant and say things about irony and smirk with a kind of face everyone perfects after a while, so you know it’s all right to mock the plain psychology of Balzac and the fragrant minute.
But it’s no wonder all the time we’re feeling anxious because we’re having to look and see if the signals are there for irony and jokes or whether we should be frowning and saying things apologetically and darkly, as if there will be reprisals.
'We seem so far far away now from prayer,' he murmurs, dreaming of the poetic life of his youth where he held high hopes for a Vita Nuova, Prometheus, Carduccis and Milton founded not on misery but on McGreevy's hopeful radiances, recognitions, nods and winks...
It’s been like this for years, this constant anxiety. And it doesn’t seem like a good game to play. In fact although it’s supposed to be it doesn’t feel like a game at all.
Because no one knows how to play and it seems to depend on those in a narcististic murk with the vaudeville knowledge of what’s really happening in their pockets, which makes us want to know how they got to know in the first taratantara. But they never reveal that. They just laugh and throw back their heads as if to say that by asking you’re probably evil and in the grips of mere tongue-tied profanity, saluting pharisee or publican no doubt, and all betwixt. They have special names for you and you feel that to these you are a little creature swirling around looking for a pram down the hall or something.
And that’s how you can feel envious and downtrodden and resentful and weak. And now you’ve got this disease and the doctors obviously think it’s going to be touch-and-go and you feel this can’t be anything to do with master narratives or these sorts of games. And again you return to the thought that here is where we need to be able to pray and raise to grace humility in the face of disaster. But all the years of trying to work out how to play has left you feeling hollow and not really prepared for the disease moment and what it brings, its recessional and nocturne, its dry, high silence..
So it seems that there are whole levels you want to go to but you’ve no idea how to. And you begin to wonder if you could die of modernity in the same sense of dying of other ailments.
'To despair over being modern, to will yourself to rid yourself of that despair, this is our formula for this kind of despair we have,' he thought forlornly as if reaching for an epilogue.
And so now he had the thought that to be unaware of being defined as modern in this new consumerised way is part of what this new kind of despair was.
'Happiness is not a qualification. Nor is it about being up to date. The modern happiness, deep down in it, has an anxiety and despair which likes being there.'
He was thinking how in the past when you were facing the end and time was running out it would be eternity asking you how you lived and about your despair, but now it wasn’t eternity but a hard-line and an excusrion to the suburbs that grips you.
'It’s a poor substitute,' is what he thinks whilst realizing that he’d be condemned for that thought.
Youthful ardor is prone to end in such disasters. To be modern is juvenile and their solutions solve nothing.
He felt that this kind of thinking was something that would be despised if it ever got out. Like it reeked of a kind of religious mysticism. Or hereditary rheumatism.
All that’s intellectually despised, he thought.
'People prefer a general convulsiveness heaving about as if covered in ants,' he wanted to say.
'I’ll be intellectually despised,' was his shocked realization following the dust white road, hedged with fuchsias and pastures .
It’s all happening in the wrong tone. Like a dress in spangles and lace. Everyone these days is interested in tone alongside the content. You have to have the right tone.
Death on the high hopes and buckling femurs of this disease can’t just be discussed in any old tone, was his reflection, and his eyes were wide like little creatures seeking a quick exit.
You have to be clear and simple but not too clear or simple, and there has to be a little bit of effort in it as well, some hint of sweat and reeling about.
And the best way of finding the right tone is to follow the adverts and designers and architects because that’s the way we get straight into the right level of refusal and everyone thinks you’re intelligent when you do that, liking both the slovenly and wild, fervent with a muttering attached, as if applauding a flurry of hats with their own flurry, their own hats.
The atmosphere and image is more important than the content is the thing. Which is one of the reasons why this disease with death attached is problematic because really you want to focus on the content and not the packaging, the dignity not the sign of the cross so to speak, the prospect over the cables, the joke not the laughter. Everything is winding up steeply, he thinks.
Because what is it to look like?
You kind of feel it should be deep and profound and endlessly dignified but then it's too oppressive for modern people if you give them too much of that because no one wants to salute and stiffen, nor go long towards the horizon with the bestired blank stare of dignity or the cilindrical ruler.
And no matter what you do there’s a sense of banality and sentimentalism in serious content that grates and clashes with what we want, we moderns with modernity stuffed in our pockets, counting all the time where very little suffices, awake for hours at a time with amazement on an ass.
Death becomes just crass and as a subject goes too far and is overdone, no more than dust in the upholstery, or swaddling.
It can’t help it, we think. There are too many clichés about for it to work without us thinking it’s a bit of hocus pocus and if we’re going to have death it had better be in a horror movie or NCIS or the horse with eyes as flesh and a funeral at three, hawthorn in its mortuaries and horoscopes.
Because we don’t think we can take going around all the time in pain, or screaming inwardly and so what we want is surprises and interest, a kind of brief shock but nothing grandiose and self important more eating house or zoo with regular customers and a mixed up hope that not too much is superfluous.
But we can’t really make much of the distinction between importance and self-importance because they always seem to be merging no matter how hard we try and keep them separate, like mental initials in the lining of old people's hats, or those you wear at weddings that are there to reinforce marriage's obscure compressed rapture like the remains of abandoned nosegays, used condoms and dwindled grandeurs.
So this is what the problem had been for him when he had been told that the disease was coming for him. He wanted it to be like the very mountain top of his life because hey, he thought, this is where I have to come to a reckoning. But immediately he felt that this would be thought of as being wrong and oppressive and a division in a life dedicated and milked to conjectures of pessimism.
He felt his friends would be put out by that sort of blowy thought, as if they were being dragged into something long by Wagner or in atrocious bad taste.
'Where is the crass metaphor and the neat wrapped up alienation we can digest?'
Or rather, that’s what he imagined because actually it had happened too fast for any of his friends to even know he had the disease and was going to have an operation that day. But they’d have resisted any grand significance and that bad monumental tone even though deep down, he now realized, that’s what he wanted more than anything else, the endured forever sadness done with oil lamps, candles, stars, sheltered from the wind and underlined and roused to eternal , you know, eternal what-not songs like 'he is far from the land where her young hero...'.
But immediately, as he admitted this to himself, in a kind of half-hearted way, he felt ashamed that he was being so intense when what they’d want from him was a kind of light-hearted cool and more obliged by 'You've got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend...' and its wry equipage.
Of course the whole episode was troubling and more complicated than even that. Because we also like to go around feeling that hell is near and the president is bad and the master narrative is taking over if we don’t go around with a troubled look, as if the look was the cause and tranquility the ceremonial enemy.
So there was also in the mix a sort of relaxed feeling that attached itself to the tone of his attempts at modern life. Because he thought we were always having to show that we weren’t at ease with the way the world was going, and were 'skewered on the ferocious dilemmas of expression,' as he remembered it once being said.
'How can we find the succours of the void?' he asked helplessly.
Because there’s a side to being modern which allows in good Goethe and bad Heidegger so long as you can also take a joke, or at least, so long as you can go next door and have a joke. But jokers have to be careful these days, he felt, because everyone is delicate about feelings and have seen Hiroshima Mon Amour and Andy Kaufman which, he had to say, were great astonishments which left just the desired openings, circulations, communications and unknown penetrations of our modern frolics in a kind of farce of giving and receiving, alongside policemen.
Which was where he felt he was with his own disease which took him into confrontation with an extreme avant-gardism or underground that dissolved his possessions and technical gifts, were he to have any. But all this gliding about and being hyper-careful and patrolling thoughts and everything made him feel that the more he tried to clarify himself the more impossible it became, as did despair.
Because despair seemed part of the upper level that was not any good any more. What had it to do with banality, sex, advertising, commerce, the social media, kittens, smiling, and whatever box of matches people wanted these days?
The disease and its operation gave him a distance that had been lacking before, was his next thought.
And that calmed him down and gave him something like hope along with stomach pains and colics like a strapped horse. The human condition can be thought about with the distance this was giving him, stretched out in the dark without civility, induration and the sudden gallop of presence.
What is that?
Perhaps all he could say about it was that from where he was standing, it was pretty dark and psychologically trapped, like the harness, buckets, brushes and rack hanging by the stable window in the manger.
Which gave him a sense that for once he was getting somewhere with his thoughts. It was hard to think and here he was doing it for once. Matching his thoughts up dramatically with his own existence, he summarized.
Which was the first time he had been able to admit to doing that with both hands, so to speak, and without a following wind or sea horizon, nor any living souls living alike as they do.
Perhaps all he had needed was disease to dramatise his existence enough for him to carve out a thought he’d be happy with, even if it left him incapable of imagining it as a whole. That’s what he thought.
The disease was making everything tilt in a way that allowed him to think straight or at least, think sooner rather than later of how the extrication should take place and what it would mean to have a thought about that.
‘Think me, out me, Psychology. Find me, dance with me, Philosophy’ was a bit disconnected as a thought, or even as a summary, but it had a bit of resplendent dignity that he thought was needed.
The hospital and the medical people would flicker into action with this bit of dignified thinking, as if he was going further than just groaning and merging with his alienating misery.
This was the character on the bus the day before with the newspaper and the story where he was Claudette and the rain and the two ten year old children and the mother.
Now was the next day. Dawn was breaking and he was making towards the rising sun and would follow it until down with the other dead.
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