Chapter 13: The Receptionist's Inevitable Limit
And then it had been his turn to go to the desk and tell the receptionist that he was there. He was unbelievably moved by this. It made him realise he was more Russian than he could have imagined before, gripped as he was by unassailable melancholia, sadness and the kind of long-faced spiritual godemichet that until then had been off limits except from between the pews of his Protestant tolling bells and silent keening ineffables. It now made sense, or had the beginnings of making sense, like watching the working hand beginning to tie the knot of the whole joyed universe .
But that was the point of going beyond the threshold of the receptionist. What happened across that line was discontinuous with anything before it, because 'before' was where the zeigesit lived and breathed all its immense heavy taedium vitae.
But here was a different place where the immolation of objects, to ambition or lubricity or whatever, would make sufferings last in a kind of unending immensity of ages, where agonies were longer than even the burying of the past that started them in the first place, and thus everlasting, as it were, and of unspeakable delight in the way this prolonged them beyond the limits of eternity, were eternity to have limits, which wasn't unthinkable once here, in what he could only imagine as a liminal world of paradoxes, which in a way was as good as saying enough.
'When I say to myself, I have enjoyed, I still enjoy, so too, when I say, I have lived, I still live, and so forth.'
This kind of stuff was rifling along with all his thoughts of hell and torture and other spliced thoughts of love, justice, and redemption, the whole ten yards.
So when he went to sit back down with a card in his hand down another corridor, back pressed into the chair back, and head leaning against the stark wall, he felt a whole lot of new respect for the building and the nurses and medical people who thronged about looking both determined and yet at the same time ethereal in a down to earth heavenly way.
Because of the way they brought dignity into the world that repeated anguished thoughts and self-torture beyond death at the angle of after-life - this was the thought here.
He was sitting in that lonely jouissance in the corridor which felt lonely I suppose because not only was he there alone, but because his vanity was ruffled, his possessions, though trifling , were disputed, and he generally was unavenged not merely in any particular instance but generally and for ever and ever Amen.
Incoherent thoughts came to him, like feathers floating down from a holy bird, maybe a turkey, no - a dove - better - and at some point these feathers would brush against each other gently as if proving the end of classical discourse and thought.
That was more like it.
Or they came like a bird hopping from here to there, one branch to another, say, in an elm, no - a willow - better - and where it landed fitted with the little jump from wherever it had been before.
That was, he felt as he contemplated this whole rigmarole, another way of trying to picture this , like there was a beautiful lonely rhythem of action and inaction happening, some solitary ensalved repetative action, an expanse of shades at the bottomless sea-bed that was everything - violence, death, life, sexuality, the whole of it - all below the level of representation, going further on down, and facing the continuous expanse, and strange.
He felt exhausted as all this thinking happened and shut his eyes for a moment like an older child when things turn sour.
So when he clutched the card which had his name and some details on it that he read as if staring into a burning hearth, and was shimmeringly pinkish, he paid a lot of attention to what his hand felt as it did the clutching, because that was all he was really doing alongside bending over so that his elbows rested on his knees soas he had a way of looking from a lower angle down the corridor along which he’d just arrived and then looking the other way, as if the other direction would be a way out were he to bolt .
And as he sat adjusting his angles and postures he started having thoughts that were just about him being there trying to understand and capture the moments, which was the opposite of what he’d been doing before when he’d been full of taking on dreams and fantasies and stories and watching other people playing around on buses or in the streets, like he had been half attached to what was actually happening and half attached to his thoughts as if assessing nature's essence and the increasing insults these thoughts brought with them, so it seemed to him, for crime, it seemed, was that essence, at least at its poisonous tip.
But now he just wanted to notice this time and this place and what his body felt like here and here and here and here. He felt that this was important because after all, he thought, this is what it’s all been leading up to and was his culmination, the roasting pit sans remorse, let's say.Something like that.
Which when he had that realization was another reeler. He reeled round its fountain.
So this was the new mood in this new situation, he thought, where everything comes falling in in great sensational revelations which are the opposite of glamour but are more like getting torture and the soul and death and nihilism and poetry and bodies in perspective, along with despair done now without charm, more in the idiom of the milder sadism of love where we play all, the tormenter and tormented, with a martyrdom of reversability mixed in.
But perhaps now, at the other side of the receptionist's gate, so to speak, even the milder form was not right. Perhaps, he thought, perhaps here what is obliterated is any fat chance of reciprocity and reversibility. Perhaps, he reiterated grimly, that is precisiely the point. And then he sagged once more.
It was a strange dryness he had in his throat as if the dryness was trapped there and, as an aside to this, he recalled how he had once wanted to be a poet because they were the most dangerous sighers. And how he’d thought that he might existentially strive to be one, relating to whatever was further and further away until you were there, maybe laughing grumpily like a hyper modern realization of Rimbaud or one of those living their poet-existence- nihilist-awareness as an exercise in pumping up reality.
Yet here he was sitting in a hospital corridor clutching a pink card and waiting for someone to come from either direction, to tell him what was going to happen next, and without striving he felt he’d made it into the poet nihilist zone, but in a better way, without the posturing and poetry and disgust and anger and having to go to Algeria to escape and slow down the action or orchestrate offstage interrogations or become ominous and lethal and bemoan basic grammatical functions and so on, as is so often what happens.
The subdued lighting was now what he appreciated and the quality of the green-tinged silence that came with it which tempered his thoughts and reminded him of what a certain kind of modest living can do.
His hurried discretion asked, somehow, for more of this silent harmony with the silence and subdued lights and in the reviving afterwards there’s a mysterious goodness to this, he thought, which got him away from the hullabaloo of the world and all the weeping, screaming for mercy, passing out, and perversions of the works .
This is what it must be like to be inward like a monk he thought to himself, and he felt pleased at this because it was like he had learned inwardness from crossing over the threshold for the first time in his life, and perhaps it was because he was running out of options and had few actions left it felt he had finally got somewhere good at last and was beginning to understand some things new, or revive old things or become so condensed he could get a clear view of the whole damn thing.
What comes before has to be seen backwards and with hindsight which accounts for the mixture of nostalgia and regret in our contempt.
'Why had I gone along with it all?'
He asked himself solemnly but wasn’t really aghast.
Persecution is just projected self-persecution, and warns us against trusting damages, because in the end someone always tries to collect.
This was the line he had been brought in to, and bought, and every time has its own flow, and even if you resist it, that’s part of the flow too.
If undisclosed truth is so precious why even try and disclose it?
As if disclosure was what it lacked.
The undisclosed will add its disclosure to its original state, make it part of its ceremony and remain even more silent than ever.
When we shudder over a catastrophe it's a catastrophe that happened some time ago.
Legibility is a sign of history. It is a sign of the dead.
Deliciously, he proposed that by making protasis, epitasis, catastasis, catastrophe and all that legible we would de facto erase them.
By saying you eschew a final conclusion you assert the impossible. He smiled at this.
The ethic of not doing the impossible requires that everything we do is right.
Passion is what you have to pass through. Apathy is the grand irony according to some, where you deny even the smallest gesture has any hope or worth. The proof of this: the repeat, the slo-mo, the dissection. He's back to leaning his head against the wall at this point, his face impassive and pale as a moon.
A Patagonian novel. The hit man receives his contract. He recognises the address of the victim. His own room. The stars are burning down everything.
The best puns are submerged. They float later. Like the drowned man Bob. And the fellow with the spade lodged in his skull, Doug. And the buried bronze-aged denizen Pete.
Is a good interrogation one where you get the confession you expected, or the one that refuses all confessions, or the one that elicites a surprise?
Beauty engorges the world with an insipidity that is close to stupidity. Only an idiot would sigh at beauty, let alone find enough for exhaustion in it. Give me the hysteria of its effacement that denies the class of beauty, and perverts it into a cunning language that can detect the excesses of the depths and heights, hell and heaven in the pain of hands, grain of sands, the flammable groin or whatever.
Taking a risk immediately risks diminishing the very act itself, a perversity whose implications we're still trying to grasp.
Priests and Jacobins alike talk with the high language God which shows their dispute is no more than about insurrectionist etiquette.
These slow thoughts fizzled out after a while. He opened his eyes and glanced to the left and then to the right. Here he sat in a hospital facing a big operation in a ward that specialized in just his disease and no other with its secret codes and rituals slowly emerging and being laid out and where everyone circulating there understands the codes as no one else can, like a priestly caste.
It was like he’d gone behind an electric fence or a forcefield or bullet-proof glass screen and left ghastly projects, delirious megalomania and the daily weaknesses and meannesses of his previous circles behind.
Only then did he notice the other chairs and where at first they’d been empty now there’s an old couple coming along and they sit down but don’t want to look at him.
Sitting alongside the couple felt like being seated in a church. There was an aura of religion in the scene. He felt a profound dissemination of it swirling in the dinge. He tried to diminish the atmosphere and tried to liken the scene to a late stage of blindsman bluff. He appreciated the elegance of this attempt but had to accept that it failed. He remained gripped by ghastly projections and sempiturnal parodies that then snapped and became truths.
He found himself squinting at the two figures sitting just a little down the way from him and admired the way they were fast making a spatial conundrum out of their ordinariness.
Because that’s what he felt they were in their rather drab windcheaters, humming their existence and presence in a low way using an overweight pasty rather than yellow skin tint with faces that looked like they were used to abundent small talk but weren’t doing that anymore, as if that’s what they’d learned from coming across the threshold, that all that small talk was just water going down a plug-hole, nothing, in the long run, to be ashamed of but on the other hand nothing to write home about neither, as far as anyone could judge.
It was as if they were giving back to death its parade and publicity.
They were a sort of minimalist decadence.
The old gent seemed to fuss and fret as an aside, and was a veneer of republican ideals mixed with the unsettling propriety of an inmate at Charenton.
Old age wears its promiscuity on its sleeve, so to speak, and every cure is one more damned thing after the next, as if someone somewhere advised the spreading of indignities as a boon.
The proof of his existence terrified this old fellow rather than the thought of its end. It is of course true that all final proofs are horrific.
Some illnesses when they come along take the form of revenge, and many afflicted like that have a certain look in their eye that is not so much pain but a creeping anger, or the calculating coldness of the hunted turned hunter one last time.
The difference between hospitals and slaughterhouses begins with the hiding of tombs.
Is it better the guillotine severs the head painlessly, or should it take its time time and make the agonies pronounced and luxurious?
The elderly woman was reading. In replacing love with reading she replaced the briefest of madnesses with the ad infinitum of the strangest texts as her unhinged horizon.
If reading so fills a head, you'd wonder if she had enough head left to turn.
The world is bitterness and boredom, and living is filth. Out of this every joy comes, like rewards in conformity with transgression. Finding correspondences between things committed on earth and punishments meted out struck him as an opaque math or rhyme scheme.
Her silence is a quote.
Reading is like pouncing on someone in the dark. It's the abandonment of any earlier solipsism. It's a sadism that comes as an effect of the reading, and one that means you can't cry out
Her companion sits in the tormented position, half crouch, half innumerate, half derived. It is a sort of beginning locked finger to fist with how it is.
The fact of these corridors debunks reciprocity, even the hope of such, with its brief intimations of impasse and resolve, or more likely its mediated, familiar serialism - door, wall, chairs, door, wall, chairs, door, wall, chairs...
It's hard to tell who suffers harder, and on which weighs the fruitful bathos of experience, when you look at these two sat on the precipice.
Unnameable humanity catches its death throes only in the forlorn action between affection and flocking.
Between the psychotic and psychiatric points of view is fate immured to a condition little more than like a bluebottle in a jar.
Well all this, he thought to himself, was itself something unexpected as he noticed that the old lady's blonde hair, that had gone grey and profane, her face weathered by the scrupulous tenderness of the inhuman world like a bartered anxiety or undelivered letter, was a reminder of her long lost conquests .
But he was sure that here she was not being phony or pompous or gittish but was caught in the long illusion of the moment, escaping to wayward memories, long forgotten scandals, the recalled expressionism of the geriatric's complicit past, as if signing off.
And so there she was, old and tired and about to die maybe, but hardly turning her head to thoughts for the dead, for everyone she’d loved in the past she would continue to have always have loved, even when dead, her stout figure and the plastic Tescos bag at her boots, her shadows and jaundice, all the little pariphinalia for what you can do well when you’re disappearing enough to assert this comfort.
It wasn’t less than a try at healing, especially when the old guy sitting with her took her hand and it seemed they were letting everything come back, from before when perhaps mortality had been forgotten and had become just fantasy and pressure from a natural beyond.
Then a nurse came and told him to follow her. Which he did as if it was all the rage.
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