Chapter 12: Where We Observe What Happens In The Event Anyone Insists They Be Themselves
When he’d gone into the hospital he’d consoled himself with thoughts of things that made him miserable.
These were fraudulent thoughts composed to calm him down and postpone decreationally his real fear. He advanced, putting on his most polite face, trying not to frown and he let his arms swing in a relaxed elastic way to suggest that here was someone of high standards endowed with supernatural powers of resistance to butchery, someone jaunty and in high spirits, or at least, not low spirits, someone polite and well-behaved, the very picture of louche all-purpose disaster, of quasi-identical body and metaphysical despair .
'Here is someone well mannered and friendly but with a touch of the romantic agony and poetic whip-lash' was the look he was going for, a look suggesting ease and a certain unforced bonhomie coupled with the impossibility of outraging nature alongside the simple, the complex, the criminal and the murderous, frantic, random strut.
Of course, he couldn't be certain that any of this was having the required effect but he nevertheless put everything into the performance, knowing that in such a public arena appearances were everything. How many times had he wandered along the side roads and ways of late night London and been confronted by disapproving thugs happy to beat his lights out on the excuse of a misinterpreted gesture, an uncloaked look, some disputed passage of Leibniz in the half-light of uncut pages and the drear initiations of Sadean boon.
Too often, he grimly reflected.
Were I one to need more than cursory affection, he continued, it would be enough to cause a breakdown of some sort, or darken the surrounding lights, he added, with teeming delirium and the coils of damnation meted out in a kind of allegorical equivalence.
And along with this, as he passed through the standard glass revolving doors and went inside, was the sudden panic that he hadn’t thought hard enough about the possibility of another world after this one nor the imp of perversity nor algolagnia . He caught his thoughts in a hiccup that had to admit that he had dismissed the idea on the word of others who now, on reflection, seemed not at all authoritative, and with no decisive evidence either way, victim nor executioner.
Not that he knew anyone he could have trusted on this, but nevertheless, it had been too quick and easy to say no to their possibility. Perhaps what he really needed was a little bit of reformed church giving him a helping hand, he thought, or a dose of Swinburne or a blue flower. I should have listened up more, he continued, and tried hard to remember anything that anyone had once said on the matter to him but quickly realised that he hadn't caught enough words and the theme had slipped away in a fizzle.
So this made him feel very limited indeed. It was just another sign of his sense of expressionist seizure when all things were stacked up and added, nil to nil.
So he walked slowly through the long entrance which was packed with people who seemed to be a crowd but one westering headlong, so that although they were close by each other physically they also seemed to have a great infinite sadness in between them, like a wooly stray urchin poised without love.
There were also great howling gusts of mood there, he felt, but all done as a mime rather than coming straight out with its meaning or sound, not unkind or mean or anything like that but more sombre and maybe looking for a refund, or else physical dread.
He felt annoyed at his inability to understand what the crowd meant and also that he didn’t really know what he meant either because as he walked he was facing those kinds of fragmented and incoherent thoughts, flared with inchoate emotions too, whereby he felt he had missed all the cues that might have helped him up to then and now, it really did feel as if it was too late.
Inevitably he was feelig a bit fed up and also a bit bitter because here he was having to finally get down to a serious concentrated effort, even though it was all a bit wobbly and messy and needed more time to filter and streamline, but nevertheless here he was, he felt, asking the right questions and feeling the strength of them but with a clock ticking and making the whole thing seem rushed and frankly too hard, like asking for rent in advance or for a general sunny effect whilst confronted with de Sade's gymnasts or the formalised principles of early bourgeoise freemasonry.
Time, that was his problem , and it was running out, he surmised. So by the time he’d made it to the escalator promising to take him up to the reception area for his appointment he felt an unusual intensification of his life and his situation as if only now busy with being tormented whereas all along there had been a somewhat distressed air to him and everything about the situation was a kind of scraping and bowing of the lowest of his spirits, a clarity, he'd have said, of ineptitude and exhaustion no less than self-torture and expiation.
And it made him say to himself – although he didn’t say anything in fact, so that’s just a figure of speech – that he wouldn’t forget how he felt he had nothing to remember about his life neither lunar, sublunar nor stellar. He felt this was a strict lesson, and was tough on his character.
The escalator rumbled him onto the upper floor and as he stood there, suddenly allowing the machine to take him up, it became a strange moment of preparation whereby the whole situation became something different from what it had been before. There was a kind of homesickness present in the short journey and it shook him as a kind of belated concern. Up he went. It was as if everything before had been just a quietist dream. The machine taking him up, he considered more than automaton, and the hospital too, and the crowds as saturated as when, imagine, all the body's sites are occupied, and by the convulsions of different partners, as if a basic architecture defined by some Kantian rule of the catalyst made clear how all this was tolerated, its solitary lubrication as tight, regulated, changing, and wiped as of steel balls in some factory contraption, or the engine of a subtle, endlessly enumerating torture machine.
And he felt that as a weird anxiety, a modest transitory state of fastidious modesty. Which was utterly transporting him away from himself, is how it felt, whilst at the same time seemed to be returning him too, by way of cunning translation beyond pen and paper, to a kind of ethereal steam.
There is always the point where you fear you’re overlooked by everyone, that not one soul has seen you at all, that no matter how many people surround you you’re missed and they see only what they want to, or can, and you remain, in that, obliterated. Or else evoked into several, a turmoil beyond control, and jouissance.
The annihilation is like that of having the next day come and no one notice you’re not there and to not cavil at that is to overimage the very thing itself as a garden variety ataraxy, a doldrums and indifference to the very question of our meaning, he thought.
He looked around at the people in the waiting area and the efficient nurse at the desk with her one-fingered telephony and stifled exclamations across the delays and mergings and wondered if they too, the lot of them, had this care about the next day. He wanted to ask them. He felt his whole body trembling like he was unhealthy but done ironically, as in, he was unhealthy but with the wrong disease for tremblings, or worse, parodying it, as in hiding deliberately relations of domination, fear and indifference in his faulty shivers.
Because of course he was unhealthy and that’s why they’d scooped him up quickly and in haste summonsed him to the place but the cause was impossible enough, and not to be expressed by shakings or shiverings or semantic serialisms done as syntax, the usual rag bag.
And he smiled at the stupidity of his walking around with signs of the wrong illness and it summed up the problem of his anxiety that he couldn’t explain or speak about to anyone, nor even make the expression of the impossible act as if a denunciation of an unconditional rapport to the law or the inversion of blasphemous inversion itself, but done in terms of the interiorisation of everything.
There was a moment when he sat, finally, and waited to be called to the desk and sitting in the chair it seemed feasible that he might at last accept the situation and agree to its obligations, whatever they were, expressing as little as needs be expressed, no more nor less, as finely as possible, to the best of one's ability, say, and now he felt the anxiety of nothing, which oppressed him more than ever because all it was was the realization that there was no more to be done than accept the predicament as it was presented to the bosom and let it, so to speak, bleed, even bleed out.
And at that moment he recognized how everything before had been built on a feeling that everything somehow would be benign towards him and better than absolute penury or even a degree of obscurity.
But this was a terrible sorcery probably bred into our genes in some evolutionary quirk, like a reflex he now thought, and was hard to take but was part of the feelings he now had, a beginning to finish, if you like, an issue of what, after all, were his afflictions and unhappiness born from a frank materialism and terror.
But sorrow, naturally, couldn’t assimilate this place and the expressive vocation of the waiting area, its rows of chairs, each expressive picture hanging on the white walls replete with the spirit of Masson if not a Kandinsky or Modrian, each doomed to be an occasion or even less, some innocent tropic of enlightenment, all of it seeming to bluster an abstract state violence against whatever weak rational forces he could muster.
The bright lights, the grey uniform walls and the neat organization of the chairs were like craven patterns designed out of suppressed fear and dualism, side-tracks and perversion, a little sigh and gasp of tears. What excuse had he for such weakness of thinking that his body exclusively belonged to anyone, let alone himself?
Ho ho ho, he felt, that’s a deep one, he reflected back, doing the usual thing of looping everything onto itself. He used reciprocating quotation marks as disquisitions, knowing that they were exactly what was usually asked for at times like these where the death drive is in the driving seat, albeit apathetically.
But this time sorrow's mania wouldn’t let this be, and caught his throat like hysteria. What rattled him was more than could be deleted, and so was more than any sentence, no matter how self-pervaded and trembling, that arose from his washed-out anthropology.
The old man in the queue before him seemed much iller than he felt, and looked like one who was enjoying his death.
'That is comforting' was his first thought.
Which made him then feel guilty for having that thought, because it seemed cruel and selfish as well as superficial and careless and tinged by a jealous streak, for the worry about death was that he doubted he'd get to enjoy his own. This made him feel more bitter about the way he had lhandled his mortality over the years, as if he had thought that being light-minded would have been enough. He had overdone his confidence in dismissing hope, as if he'd been consumed by it and been left not with sympathy but rather horror and pity.
Because hope was what he realized he’d betrayed, as if everything he'd done had been to resist hope's enchantments, allowing himself to be reconsumed, and now he felt this had been a myopic way to go about things. It had robbed him of the courage to command – himself and his life and now this, his death, ruination and left him to think his kind of laughter had been nothing but a compulsively trained sick corrosion of what, ultimately, had been his wish to be free.
That’s what he thought as he stared at the quivering old man as he walked to the desk as if to a dead end. And what was the old guy thinking? Maybe he was also contemplating his own extraordinary psyche and body as a perfect spirit, impossibly conceived as sexually qualified or something with darkening haloes already forming in the air like the dusty points of an angelic breast.
That was one way things could have stood. After all, he wasn’t so easily mistook as religiously designed with his sleepless sort of grey suit that was exceedingly imperfect, crumpled and thin like a qualification of time weaving itself around him until there was no room left, more brothel than chapel, more bank than temple.
How much was he capable of still, and with it, how much did contemplating that give him a fright?
What you have to do when you’re that old, he thought as he watched the figure ahead of him with a renewed interest and qualified respect, was to unite all your elements, not just thrash along from youth to the middle and then out again to the final end.
But perhaps he had made too many excuses to do that anyway. After all, he too was doing this on his own. On the other hand, maybe he had made that unity out of himself after all, and was just at another point of being himself.
But doctors know there’s such a thing as false health, just like false illness. So perhaps – and as he thought this he peered more than before so his body found a line of suspension that was precarious and he might have at any moment tumbled over – this old guy had not even found himself anywhere.
Perhaps this one was refusing to say he had limitations, and in doing that, had lost. So he thought about the relation between knowing and willing. Which is what sent him backwards to his seat and stopped his staring. Which then he reflected had been rude. Not that anyone had noticed.
But of knowing and willing he sat on a half-way fence: do neither exclusively was his thought.
And when he thought of himself in comparison with others he realized that doing that was both encouraged in modernity but really silly. Because that’s not what mattered now. What I could be. What I could have been. That’s not about comparing myself with what others do on the outside. Nor what is owned. Or owed.
These thoughts were half formed and spluttering fragments. He wasn’t able to hold down a long line of anything. He recognized that that had always been a fault. Or had been something he hadn’t properly handled. As if knowing full well the limits of the body he’d somehow left out the self.
But he now told himself straight about how craven and cowardly he had always acted when it came to either. He was wild with this thought because he knew that he couldn’t hold anyone else to blame for this and it certainly wasn’t the fault of life itself nor phantoms quick nor dead nor coitus a tergo.
He had managed to live up to a point. That was a dismal conclusion. He sank into the metal-framed chair as if a little drunk. He thought suddenly that the language for all this was invisible or was a secret that he should have stumbled on a lot earlier.
Suddenly everything seemed too hastily decided, running away with him, going headlong.
Stop this rushing and all this fuss was his thinking, and he was shaking a little. But then he accused hinsef of having spent far too much time pretending to be sophisticated and talking jibberish without being dizzy himself despite making everyone around him dizzy , which made him self-accuse and wonder if it wouldn't have been a lot better had he just jumped from a window one winter and stopped it all there and then on a black paving stone in the swirling snow.
But he’d beguild them at the expense of himself is what it all looked like now. So it was a bad joke and the joke was on him and it served him right and what the hell did you expect were all the thoughts and accusations here.
And that’s where a modern despair sets in, which was about his personality rather than anything else and should have put him on his guard from the start, but hadn't.
It was as if the whole of this waiting area was showing him a myth about time and death and the masquerade of life lived with too much fantasy involved in agreement with the double bluff of being his own dad, and grandad too. The pumped air- conditioned air was like a parody of air , like a mockery that wanted him to be shocked out of his shallowness and haze of self-generation. But it was a fuzzy, muted kind of shock really. The walls and the chairs and the figures were greenish and orange and from the escalator coming up from below was a radiating rich brightness, as if the architecture was a fiction after all, a fantasy of perverse excess and an absolute mathematics of delirious profusion.
He kept thinking but couldn’t get more than a fraction of what he thought he needed out of all that thought and its congestions for any sort of worth-while testimony.
It was partly due to the complications of his personality, he thought. And then the subject was enough to blow your mind really, even its fictions, crawling along in the mud down below, knocking on the skull caps, digging into armpits, showing obvious skill and torments, enough, anyway, to be spared if not to sing.
Life and death and the meaning of it all. That’s not something you can go mindlessly on about unless by proxy.
There have to be a lot of interchangeables. But all he could find were low key affairs - in the end information, gossip and other jobbing stand-ins for the real high stuff, spasms of the spikes of pain and the like.
The high stuff seemed to be just too high for him. He found himself drifting to thoughts about winning the lottery and who he’d give his winnings to if he came away with the big one, which seemed to end his train of thought in a kind of weary pedagogy. And there was always a feeling in all of this, that he was too close to modern bad taste to be able to even start to make sense of his situation and its relentless tortures. He felt that he had been ripped off somehow, but he couldn’t pin down anyone to blame and suspected he was just at the mercy of his own low thinking as usual, which betrayed the life above and made him feel churlish. He concluded that he couldn’t master the submissions as if the last rehearsals had not been enough and in the end could only result in, at best, a quality of hesitancy and a tired slowing down towards inevitable darkness, silence and the muddy hellhole.
Well, what if he had skulked through life, playing it like a game of chance in the language of the pervert's bland legalese? Now health, or rather, illness had cropped up as an immediate qualification of everything. And he turned his head silently and lowly and wondered about the real question that he had which was summarised thus: had he lived in despair or not?
But he wasn’t sure about that as a question, becase even if it was he couldn’t be sure whether he really understood it, either as vulgar sadism or huge reflexivity. So he wasn’t sure if what was coming at him was truthful or merely a bagful of menace, phrases in between a riot of feelings from overheard, overdone or merely vulgar and in uppercase .
And if he’d always been removed from weightiness everything was now heavier than before in atmosphere and scale, pigment and vertigo, as if he'd been bequeathed a sack to drag around.
Perhaps he felt that the hospital and the queuing and everything added a bit of squalor where before there had been just awkwardness , embarrassment and maybe a little bit of sauciness at a pinch, adding a Sadean tonality to his own tortures.
There was something in this place and time that let him see things with his own eyes for once, as if before he’d been too enthralled by conventions and fashions, albeit it obscure ones, to find any true ground swell. His modern life had always mixed a genteel background with private leering and notorious gestures creeping about. But everything had been half hearted and a bit flabby and swoony. It was as if his low thoughts had got mixed up with his high thoughts and exploited them back and forth in tremors and tremolos of abominable incoherence. Lest we be unclear, his thought was ever: the torturer will be victimised sooner or later and vice versa, no matter immobilities and matters of the dark.
When he thought about it, he’d done all this without realizing it. He’d thought that what he had been doing was something urgent and worthwhile but as he sat there feeling a breakdown, a distraction, an interval in the insane areas of silence that now were his only punctuations, he thought that he’d probably made a big mistake and that he should have done better, as if he hadn’t got a strong character after all but only a delicate sensibility, an incoherent reality and the unstable architecture of a primped daisy.
Which he thought flattered him, and so deceived too, as in literally, flattering to deceive. It struck him as monstrous and he sagged further at the thought as if with a life in common.
But there actually was something delicate in his ways which had until then kept him away from being interested in watching footballers wives, doing unbuttoned terrorism, a life in advertising or getting gripped by an eternity of darker and strenuous pornography and its deleted faces and recurrent buttocks. For sure the zeitgeist is ok with the indecent indivisibilities of the pornographic mode of course, but in a faddy schematic way which in a long way is an accomplice and in a short way a star of creation, a permanent sneer with a hammer and the great symphonic poetry of infrequency, Dionysius the Aeropagite and Rimbaud of the imperfect fecundity.
Staring at his shoes, he waits and takes leave to doubt his soul can be saved, nor any of his purposes in fact, and feels abstract, dense and too succinct for the world.
If you like this you might try these other 3:16 novels: