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Five Silhouettes.

<TN>Denaci, Sarah</TN>


The house was prosperous and only arson could have made it interesting. The family consisted of the father, the mother, the two daughters, and that permanent houseguest, Herr Muschtag, who would address him whistling the first part of his last name, as if he wanted to extinguish it. The pain had started in Strasburg and had followed him, hammering at his temples more efficiently than even a gendarme could manage. Herr Muschtag cleared his throat, pointed innocently at him with his pipe, and asked him if he had seen "The Musical Forest." As if he knew what he was talking about, he answered him that no, he hadn't had the opportunity. Pleased, Herr Muschtag brought over the bronze cage, put it on the shining tabletop, and peered into the bars, smiling. Inside there were four bears, each one with an instrument: two violins, a viola, and a violoncello. On the head of the tallest bear rested a raven or a crow. The pain consisted of nostalgia, dejection, the weak vertigo caused by his trip and these difficult hosts, his cranial nerves. Herr Muschtag pulled the lever stuck between one of the angular bars, and a certain change, a portent, was produced in the cage's interior, as if the air had shrugged its shoulders. Then, with painful exactitude, the bears began to scratch out a melody. The crow sang a sad and faltering song that said there was no consolation in its cell and that gentians don't last as long as mistletoe. Georg Buchner smiled. You could hear the trembling of snow in that voice. He was twenty-four years old and didn't know if the pain of death preceded death, was death itself, or came after death, inspired and ultimate.

He remembered Minna, her blush, her footsteps, the narrow corridor in which the portraits of ancestors resembled those of the servants more and more each day. Scenic instructions. The last butler, who had mistaken him for a messenger, had said, "I need to recover it before Monday or else ..And in the next act he sunk his hands into the open body of a rabbit. "Have you ever seen anything like it, Herr Buchner?" It was Herr Muschtag now, his eyebrow arched, his fists stained with gravy. The candlelight shuddered beside him. No. Minna's very dark mouth in the darkness, still in the darkness. In the darkness, the toads and the water beetles. Dytiscidae. Dark in the darkness of the muddied water. No. And Ludwig, his brother, who pulled one out and made it enter into the light. "You see it?" he said: the divided chitinous body, the brilliant elytra. A fable whose words may have been these fragile animals, the final animal a grateful whisper; the penultimate, an interjection ... the pain, the real pain would begin after death, and Herr Muschtag would have to know it. He smiled in thanks. An homage. To the ingenious man of letters, to the Professor of Comparative Anatomy at the University of Zurich, who had to flee because of certain juvenile rages. Herr Muschtag, again: "Tell me something, young man, what would you say is missing from these ... animals ... that would make them simply ... human?" He didn't know. In a letter that he wrote, in between two words, an accent, a blotch of ink: this was what life did with the truth. Insert a paragraph. And wasn't Herr Muschtag perhaps ideal, with his captious rhetoric and adequate truths, as a model for Camille Desmoulins (or vice versa)? Something was missing: the continuity didn't belong to nature but to history, but between them both someone was inserting a paragraph. Was it him?

"I have heard that you are interested in puppet theater. Is that true?" asked Herr Muschtag, always incredulous. He must have gotten it mixed up, just like the crow's accent had mixed himself up in turn. Perhaps the national language was nothing but that: an oscillation between von Kleists blank verse and a peasant's stutter. But no, it wasn't puppets or marionettes that interested him.

Animals, automatons. And the beetle's body had remained floating on the viscous surface. Abandoned. Useless. End of the experiment. And afterward, he would die, shutting his eyes. But before that he had to say good-bye, had to thank for his hospitality this restrained and agitated gentleman who had watched him among his wife and two daughters, amazed that he'd had so many things in common with this private tutor. That gentleman was always among. Among his snail collection and his handwritten notes on Spinoza's Ethics, in French, that meridian language ... He went back to thinking about the empty eye sockets of snail-adorned skulls. How many more things did he have to see to be sure that one was enough to stop everything else? Not Nature, Art taught. To breathe through your ear. The two girls curtsied. Herr Muschtag approached them for the last time. He heard their calm whisper. He turned around. In front of him were the stagecoach and the road. The mistress of the house had tight eyelids and an astonishing mole: she would never allow her household to be interesting. Behind her, the girls made a racket in Italian that Herr Muschtag rushed to correct. Good luck. He watched vapor coming out of the horses' snouts, a limp hedgehog that turned into a bundle of spines. Things began to bore him. Between one and another there had always been too much blood, too many words. The bronze cage, Minna's mouth, his hands covered in rabbit entrails, the final beats of mechanical life in the crow's mouth ... Unlike the captain in Woyzeck, eternity didn't disconcert him. He made a decisive farewell salute at the height of his temples, which still hurt. Now he heard a lumbering melody, rehearsed, result of some provincial composer's ambition, an omen of the days that would have to come. No stars in the sky, only clouds. Perhaps someone at those heights would dare to imitate Lenz. Then nobody would be astonished to hear that there was music there in addition to heat, a music similar to that which was missing between things, a music that would help the Earth's dead to breathe--those that, like him, didn't hear anything but the silence of blood and words. Suddenly, close to the cartwheel sunk in the cold earth, the hedgehog found its tracks in the bushes. He walked into the darkness as if he were slipping, determined and obedient, into its hand.

Georg Buchner was born October 17, 1813 in Goddelau, Hesse-Darmstadt. He studied in Darmstadt and later in Strasbourg, to which he had to flee, pursued by the Grand Duchy. He had a difficult life because of his illnesses and active participation in his era's revolutionary movements. Shortly before his death, he found work teaching comparative biology at the University of Zurich. As an anatomist and biologist, he is well known for his studies of cranial nerves and barbel fish. He wrote the plays Danton's Death (1835), Leonce and Lena (1836), and Woyzeck (begun in 1836, but incomplete at Buchners death). Also a bit of exemplary prose, Lenz, based on J. F. Oberlin's diary, about the life of Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz (1751-1792), "failed poet" and contemporary of Goethe. He translated Victor Hugo into German (the plays Lucrece Borgia and Marie Tudor). His girlfriend, Minna Jaegle, was with him the day he died, February 19, 1837. The preceding story is just a bit of narrative license, which the author of these silhouettes has conceded himself with more audacity than talent. The life of Buchner could certainly make a good short story, but Buchner himself--or Lenz--would have to write it.


It was while I was looking for information about George Dalgarno, whose Ars Signorum (1661) so interested Leibniz, that I stumbled upon his surnames namesake. The last name unites them, or else simply--pantographically--traces an innocent spatial acrobatic across time. They say that the spiral is a spiritualized circle: well, George Dalgarno (c. 1616-1687) and Enrico Dalgarno (1848-1911) evoke a less spiritual but equally elegant figure, a lemniscate whose point of crossing might lie in the two centuries which separate them.

I should clarify that the work of each is as unknown to me as that of the other. At the same time, one and the other both pass almost invisibly through the course of the various great ideas of their time; one and the other both propagate readings that are difficult or impossible, as if one's apprenticeship to their work were only an unappeasable appetite, or an unsought and intuitive aptitude; one and the other both, finally, represent a crucial sort of annoyance--or monotonous sort of pleasure--within those regimes of banality and revelation that are dictionaries and indexes of names. Philosophy and art history seem to get along fine without mentioning them directly, but perhaps it isn't totally gratuitous to force their casual potentiality into a proper relationship with the help of Luciano Albioni's interpretation of the second Dalgarno in Bozzetti per la scenografia del Millenio (Torino, 1988), wherein Dalgarno appears alongside others, like Fidrmuc and Trebitsch-Lincoln, similarly lost to the art of biography. Although Albioni's book, treacherously, was intended to illustrate a hypothesis concerning Dalgarno's precursor, and the differences between them, perhaps it's best that we not waste this superficial description of Dalgarno's work by describing another.

Enrico Dalgarno was born in Padua, son of a bulky businessman who denied him his surname (Gobetti). "Dalgarno," is, nonetheless, a gift from the paternal side of the family: his pugnacious fathers mother's maiden name. (As if Borges, subjected to the unpronounceable law of Tlon, had become Haslam.) The Scots ancestry (and, accordingly, his relation to George) seems less remote in leagues than in lustrums: Albioni mentions an uncle who taught German to Enrico, and who wrote a "hagiography" (?) of John Knox, ending his days in Edinburgh. As for Enrico, he studied in Padua and Rome; in 1873, he was named Professor of Aesthetics in Bologna; in 1876, he published a study "mapping the rhetorical correspondences between authorship and astronomy," based on the investigations of Giovanni Schiaparelli, who, according to Albioni, would later exercise considerable influence on Rensselaer W. Lee (Ut Pictura Poesis), Erwin Panofsky (Idea), and Jean Paris (L'espace et le regard).

But the work that concerns us began later, when Enrico Dalgarno prepared an extensive essay about Rembrandt's self-portraits. Albioni explains: "Rembrandt's self-portraits lead Dargarno to a crossroads that perhaps (not even early) psychoanalysis could have avoided. He came to the conclusion that the task of a man of letters (he never considered himself anything else) is to write (or to learn to write, throughout the course of his life) his own life." In a peculiar interlude, tyrannized by pleonasm, Albioni tries also to stammer out something about "a religion of listening"; there is also, however, a direct quotation from Dalgarno that doesn't seem unworthy of its commentator: "I am at once prey to synteresis and the confessional." Couches, at the time, as has been said, were still no more than an innocuous Viennese comfort.

Thus Enrico Dalgarno took on the mission of writing his life, from innocence to prolepsis, as many times as necessary (if each one of these "lives" were mandated by the appearance of a particular muse, as Albioni conjectures, nobody has yet confirmed this).

The first of the four "biographies" that Dalgarno was able to complete is, according, as always, to Albioni, who managed to consult the original, "a pictorial biography." In it, Enrico tells how he discovered voluptuousness while gazing at Veronese's Allegory of Love, tells with what precision the "precise sensation of the time that passed" (but what else could time do?) as he tried to copy the foreshortenings of the Great Masters was then recorded in his memory, and speculates as to what sort of currency it could possibly be appropriate to remunerate artists for creating works of art that "are humanity's only practical patrimony." Intoxicated by this idea in particular, Dalgarno persevered with his work: his second biography is "economic" in nature.

Dalgarno wrote it in Davos, just after finishing his study of Rembrandt, and it was published posthumously under the title (editor's choice) of Mirano in vari oggetti un solo oggetto (1948). Albioni, who has a weakness for unpublished materials, doesn't spend much time on it, remarking that it only contains ideas that Dalgarno would develop more thoroughly in the remaining biographies. At this point, it's important to clarify that each one of these biographies is neither a continuation of the previous work nor an introduction to the subsequent; that is, Dalgarno's life's work is not an extended autobiography in four or five volumes. The "pictorial," the "economic," the "emotional," and the "pathetic," all represent separate and autonomous works; they are each "a life" in themselves (narrated from birth until the moment in which the preterist decided to take up his pen).

Economics, however, is a common factor to the four biographies that are known to us, or so synthesizes Albioni. Dalgarno describes the coins in use at each important stage of his live and composes his self-portrait in such a way that the obscure circumstances (or ill-luck or destiny) that resulted in his disinheritance will be made evident to the reader. Albioni also suggests that this constant attention paid to the author's liquid assets anticipates a class struggle sui generis: a conflict waged in secret between the "dispossessed" and the enfranchised, between the artistic amateur and the amatore of art. Two citations from Ghirlanda bruna (the so-called "pathetic" biography, the only one published in the author's lifetime, in 1911) seem to permit such an insinuation (the italics are Albioni's): "I always prefer the condition of the suspicious guest, who may hide an object of value among his clothes. That which I observe in the houses of the others was and is my only treasure, a useless possession that I am obliged to transport it from one place to another while those others, like the Archduke Leopoldo Guillermo, do nothing but exhibit it. [ ...] The seventeenth century has laid the groundwork for all of us to know what we are like. Some of us will be painted smiling, enjoying an atmosphere and a connivance apart: others already have in their Land a king, however tame he may seem, and kings do not smile. We will only be valuable when they display us in the gallery where their children, well-built and upright, can likewise remain serious." The modest publicity of these concepts had (yes, now the italics are my own) to have influenced Max Raphael (Tempel, Kirchen und Figuren Studien Zur Kunstgeschichte, Asthetik und Archaologie) and John Berger (Ways of Seeing), says Albioni, but his enthusiasm for nosing out the "influenced" seems to be directly proportional to the pleasure he takes in withholding any specific examples.

Dalgarno's third biography, the "emotional" (also unpublished), is the most literary. In the apotheosis of his associative delight, Albioni compares it to Schnitzlers novels, Gertrude Stein's experiments, and the Triestean Giacomo Joyce. It dedicates itself simply to recording the author's emotional register, doing away with continuity in favor of distraction, with entries organized according to nothing more than a vaguely poetic intent. I will transcribe the two passages transcribed by Albioni: "Rehearsal. Old age abounds. A brief border of happy flesh whose indecency can or should excite me. Regarding what? Life passes, passes. Again and again I'm not able ... to make my surprise plausible. They look at me, astonished, the men of lineage, the arbitrators of finances and standards. They don't know that in order to tell a love story, one must know how to say T,' though in my case it isn't necessary. [...] I am at once prey to synteresis and the confessional. Absolute hearing, the law of forgetting weakened by amnesia or by our ancestors' good memory. Kings who change hands. But if anything really gets through, you should invite me to the pronoun clinic."

Thus stands Enrico Dalgarno, who met Rilke early on and knew, in his last years, Rilkes Italian translator, Giaime Pintor. Thus too the two or three clear things we know about him, and that for his part he knew or didn't want to know something about a precursor likewise obsessed with names, and the way in which people hear them or don't hear them.


Solemn, Father Negreira approached the mirror as if the reflected image might take some time to coalesce. Each day began with this not so useful ceremony. "The young priest's formal rigor, his gift for languages, could easily please the devil ..." he took advantage of the pause to rub a colorless cake of soap onto his face. "Yet it's open to debate whether or not formal rigor pleases the devil, don't you think, Father Tweedy?" he asked. "It's difficult to come to a conclusion based upon observation of the demon's works alone, but, yes, I would say that there is a certain systematicity to evil. As for the poems you speak of, there is no rule in our order preventing us from reading them as mere exercises," answered Father Tweedy. Negreira's silence obliged him to continue. "Father Hopkins hasn't given us any other standard by which to read them, after all." "Much like exercises," Father Negreira ran over a rough patch of foam with his razor, "they are, ultimately, irrelevant, I'm afraid." He exhaled. "Painstakingly indecipherable." Father Tweedy pointed at the two raised hands on a crucifix. Meiosis: a liturgical moderation of emphasis. He said, "Difficult to read, it's true, but written devoutly. Father Hopkins's behavior has always been exemplary. The Order ..." "The Order," interrupted Father Negreira, "can't condemn him for practicing an activity consisting of contemplation. Or do I mean a contemplative activity? Even so, I'm not sure of the advisability of such an activity: practicing it is equivalent to setting aside certain clear priorities in search of those states of mystic contemplation," here he wiped off the foam from the metal edge, "already condemned in the work of the heretic Miguel de Molinos." Father Tweedy took a step closer to his interlocutor; even before he spoke, he felt out of breath. "The various hierarchies of error spanning from Satan to Miguel de Molions are diverse and unfathomable to us ... you and I shouldn't dare to judge a man who shares our ignorance." "The difference between a maniac and a sane man without sense is that the former will always find a group of followers among other reprobates ..." Father Negreira turned his head the better to shake the stare of this insignificant little man whose reasoning was never quite clear to him. "While the latter ... he won't even find success in a mental hospital." "Success?" asked Father Tweedy. "Meaning what?" Father Negreira began to dry his face, then he asked, "Have you read Keats, Father Tweedy?" "Yes." Father Tweedy granted the poet's distinguished profile a moment of admiration. "But I think that your esteem for me is far too generous if you believe that I have formed an opinion on everything I've read." "Have you ever, sir, been afraid of losing your faith?" asked Father Negreira. "Indeed so, there was one occasion, when I happened to be passing through a convent in Scotland ..."

Father Hopkins was curled up near a door on which a small sign prescribed "Meat only once a day. No tea except upon rising, and then without sugar. No writing poetry during Holy Week or on Fridays. No sitting in chairs, save when there is no other way for you to work. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, consume only bread and water." Since he had arrived, he could only rest by walking. Walking, an art. Condemned. To look at things with the intention of really seeing them, in all their precision or ambiguity, with all their imperfections. "Piebald," a word appropriate for a pony, not for a stream. Pinto stream? Uncertain words and imperfect things, the rules by which all things differ ... Where was Duns Scotus? Since he had arrived, the water and Advent had been killing him. Would he ever master Gaelic? The water gave him diarrhea, spasms of pain. Before whom would he prostrate himself in this pain? The fast, which was approaching ... what? Those minuscule mouthfuls of air taken by the beats of the earth--their mottled, overo coats--always close to strictly necessary food. What was necessary for someone like him? Not he himself, he wasn't necessarily in play. The streaks of Gods great clouds. Then what was necessary for a lemming? Lemmings hurled themselves into the sea. Looking. Fearing. Hearing. Lemmings and lemurs, they probably knew more about death. They were alive. Again he felt his stomach cramp, a pain that seemed to spread the pallor of death through his insides, and then, if not without a certain systematic grace ("evil, evil"), turning him inside out like a glove, so that his outsides also paled. Would his true outside seem acceptable to the things he looked at? "Mr Hopkins lacks Bishop Berkeley's persuasion, but we must note in his sentences an aesthetic of calm that his prosody then violently bewilders ..." Poetic appetites. Beloved Bridges had been confused more often than not. Literary nits. The darkness of the path to the place of light. The light, the torrents of light he'd found pouring over these swift things--petals, pikes, parrots ... True beauty? And that woman: "If beauty resides in form, would you, sir, say I am beautiful?" The simple words they would read clinically in order to recognize an agonized talent. To possess beautiful forms. A few had been in his arms. Beloved: that gracious participle revealing the ethics of the past. Should he tell her? Beloved Milicent and Katie, beloved Bridges. Inverness, Inversnaid. Words that are names. Accentuating the distinction. Spelling out the differences. Accents, dashes, striations. Writing for that. Far afield of these elegant paradoxes. "The Frenchman said the marriage-tie was in every case a bad thing, for if the married tired of each other it bound them together against their will, and, if they did not, it was superfluous." Now, as soon as he recovers, he must return to his papers. Latin and Greek. Thanks to the knowledge of others he was becoming prematurely old. He looked at the edges of his fingernails, that which entered into them, dirtying them. And again the ascent of pain, the spiral of nausea. The echo of temperaments, another proof of futility, as if youth's coveted form never uncovered anything but enigmas. "To the happy memory of five Franciscan Nuns, exiles by the Falk Laws, drowned between midnight and morning of Dec. 7th, 1875." A shipwreck. Even if they didn't want to understand, it had been because of this that it had been written, so that the ages would have signs, accents, differences. Excellence, the proportions of the norm, come from a force that expresses them and triumphs asserting itself over the resistance and difficulty of the material that limits them. Henry Purcell, his divine genius. Now feeling the music. Listening intently to this wave of power and gathering the energy to rise.

Father Hopkins leaned out the window. At this hour, everything became onerously unnecessary: the vague twilight, the vapor, the stars' distant discipline. Beautifully unnecessary. Above all the resistance and difficulty, the night began to have a face.

Father Tweedy concluded his story. As he was talking, he'd had the feeling that he had nothing of substance to add to all the other testimonies he'd heard from those in danger of losing their faith. His words, however apt and precise, couldn't provide a proper description of the apt and precise significance of his experience. Maybe he should have insisted. He said: "Perhaps within a few years we will better understand what Father Hopkins meant to say. Words also need time." Father Negreira nodded; he felt that the meeting had come to a close. He thought about the era in which they had to live: a vast circulation of facts and names that ambitious history would know how to capture, dispensing with generalities like these rites, these confidences. From Father Tweedy's story the image of an antique painting lingered. The painter, he remembered, had paid special attention to the saint's lips, murmuring a sentence or a prayer there in an illuminated face. He had learned to see this in the closed mouth of men. The Hesychasm. Negreira gestured for Father Tweedy to take his leave, and followed after him. "For the joy of God and men," he said in a very loud voice, as if initiating a sermon dictated by his image in the mirror, "you and I need not be threatened by expectations." The morning was splendid.

Father Negreira and Father Tweedy are fictitious; no amount of coincidence with reality could make them less inoffensive, gratuitous, or fatuous. Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889), Jesuit priest, is, after Donne and Shakespeare, the English language's greatest poet. Accepted into the Catholic Church by J. H. Newman, he faced the misfortune of his poetry encountering not merely miserly, but actually adverse times. It was the epoch of Pater and Arnold--whom Hopkins venerated--but given his experimentation with "sprung rhythm," and his syntax so similar to the mumbles and raptures of living speech, he strayed far afield of the conventions of such excellent "melodic" poets as, for example, Swinburne and Tennyson. His punctuation and meter, capricious as they may seem, link him to Donne, another surly experimenter of the indescribable; the imagery and his skill in verbal games have contributed to the comparison, often superficially, to Dylan Thomas, another poet both more studied and more casual.

The "beloved Bridges" of the text is the poet Robert Bridges, Hopkins's friend and executor, who corrected and helped to publish, years after Hopkins's death, the latter's work; Katie and Milicent were Gerard's sisters; Inverness and Inversnaid are both places in Scotland that Hopkins visited (he dedicated a magnificent poem to the latter); the French paradox comes from "On the Origin of Beauty," a text of the poet's in the style of a Platonic dialogue; "To the happy memory ..." is the dedication of The Wreck of the Deutschland, a long poem by Hopkins that stands as one of his principal achievements in "sprung rhythm"; "Excellence, the proportion of the norm ..." is (probably) paraphrased from a letter to Coventry Patmore, a poet who, turning on Hopkins, later said that his friend's versus were "veins of pure gold imbedded in masses of impracticable quartz"; the setting--described without recourse to Ignatius of Loyola, as is probably evident--comes to some degree from the anecdotes found in a book whose title, if I remember correctly, is G. M. Hopkins: A Commentary, but whose author has entirely escaped me. Hopkins was, in addition to a poet, a composer and draftsman.


Of Victor Eiralis's face, I retain only a cloudy memory. In 1981, when I saw him for the first time, he was making his way as a copy editor while I believed myself to be losing mine working as a "journalist." He walked into the office, found a chair, sat with its back between his legs, and said, "Tell me, sir, does your writing always come out this bad the first time, or do you have to really work at the worst bits?" He seemed like a character out of Onetti. Since then he's always called me "Pavese," an epithet of which I could never quite be proud, because he immediately gave me an explanation that didn't have anything to do with lyrical or narrative talent. He told me he'd noticed I had an irresistible tendency toward suicide.

Later, something brought us together in a bar. Something that wasn't exclusively hate, but which had a good amount of hate mixed in with the mere spite that animated his cumbersome rejoinders. "I live caged by failure," he told me then, "but you, sir, are even worse: you live caged by error." Maybe his failure lay in his insisting on addressing me as "sir," or in thinking that we were all as hardheaded as he. About my error, however, he was entirely confident.

But when our failure and error became insufficient--or perhaps only indistinct--he discovered something far worse: with the smug defenselessness of the misguided, I had begun to admire him. Victor Eiralis refused this bribe, but he gave me a silhouette in return.

On some occasion or another, falling into an exasperating old tic of mine, reserved for friends, I spoke to him enthusiastically of a certain exiled Russian writer. Victor Eiralis boasted of being the only Russian literature expert in Argentina. He looked at me indulgently. "Yet another idiocy, Pavese," he diagnosed, smirking. "That cretin is an invention precisely for shameless idiots like you. Do yourself a favor, seeing as you claim to read English: Gerhardie. He'll go right over your head, of course, but that hardly matters." And he named some books by William Gerhardie, and I assumed he was simply embroidering an already unconvincing fabrication.

Afterward (and I'd continued not to believe him), he went on to speak to me at length of Gerhardie, clarifying that his last name was actually meant to be spelled without the final e, but that William himself had added it in order to emulate the Masters: Shakespeare, Dante, Racine, Goethe. All of this information came to me caged in the smell of juniper, and apart from further enriching Eiralis's spite, it didn't do much for me besides round off the implausibility of this Gerhardie nonsense. How about if I start to spell my name Chitarronie?

Now that Michael Holroyd (a trustworthy authority: biographer of Lytton Strachey and Bernard Shaw) has, however, allowed God's Fifth Column: a Biography of the Age 1890-1940 into circulation via Hogarth Press (nothing to do with our Great Mother, mind you); now that Julian Symons (that almost criminal arbitrator) gave William Gerhardie eight cramped columns in the TLS; now that my idiocy has at last equaled my error, now that age and promise can no longer affect Victor Eiralis, maybe it would be useful to dedicate a few lines to this writer whom I thought had been made up.

William Alexander Gerhardie was born in Saint Petersburg in November of 1895. (The year was always very important to him: it was the year in which they imprisoned Lenin and Wilde, the two writers who most influenced him). Like his father--the inventor of an infallible "system" for winning at roulette, which the son would practice in Monte Carlo with disastrous results--William was always a grinning dunderhead, an optimist; he was also a womanizer and whoremonger. Yes, those vain fixtures of the night really made him shiver, made him believe that every female body must, sooner or later, be possessed of the same sort of lust--both slow and sudden--he experienced himself. He never regretted regretting: his compulsion to lay hands on every woman he could was tantamount to recognizing the sadness of literature. And Gerhardie practiced literature with a harem owner's joy: he was a polyglot. In 1920, approximately, after surviving the horrors of a phantasmal war, he went to study at Worcester College, Oxford. From then on, he turned into something of a spy in the house of gossip. He heard the voices of Arnold Bennett and Agha Khan, of Lloyd George and Bertrand Russell; there was always something that interested him more: the crimson nails of adultery, the run in a stocking from some lost work of love. He spoke English with such hasty, choppy nonchalance that his North American tailor celebrated even Gerhardies anthropometric peculiarities as though they were epigrams.

If Conrad transformed from a Pole into Shakespeare, albeit peppering his margins with grumbles of protest, warped words, the ashes of sense, Gerhardie changed from a Russian into Firbank, albeit with Dr. Chekhovs consent: gardens, hot springs, witnesses in galoshes. The Polyglots, Futility, Resurrection, Memoirs of a Polyglot are some of his books, and are indeed better (all of the critics now concur with Eiralis) than Nabokov's, purer in their impurity.

Gerhardie allowed his work to obscure "the difference between art and life" to which hed never paid much attention in any case; he wrote that D. H. Lawrence was as "unable to satisfy a woman" as Hitler was "unable to bestraddle a horse"; he died peacefully in his Hallam St. apartment in 1977.

Two more anecdotes about Eiralis. The last time I saw him, it had already been a good while since wed both changed our lines of work. He came out of a screening of Amadeus, and wasn't alone. I think it annoyed him to be seen with an ugly woman. "Pushkin wrote this same thing more than a century back, and the director of this piece of garbage is simply imitating his style, Pavese." Then, adopting the stance of some stone immortal experiencing a very intimate satisfaction, he said, "Let me let you in on a bit of good advice, a friendly motto: it'd be better for you to begin to fail before your error lets you think that you've achieved success."

The second-to-last time I saw him, we said our good-byes. He, he told me, had stopped working because "he had met a rich woman." Prosperity didn't do anything for his looks. He was more bloated and withered than ever. He sat in his cowboyish way and talked at me for a while. We both had been slaves, he said, but I would be one forever. Unfortunately, I would never realize it. At some point, after looking at my face in the mirror, I would simply feel disgust. Nembutal, pills. No, it was clear that I would not be able to die like a man.

I (without italics, please) tried then and there--as I'm trying now--to write something at the typewriter. Pretty anxiously. Until it looked like he had fallen asleep. Then I said his full name out loud--it sounded unreal. He opened his eyes and looked at me as though seeing a copy of the original (me) after having found that we'd loaded the carbon paper backward. I'll never know if he really had fallen asleep. "I dreamed that you were intelligent," he told me, "and that I hadn't had the bad luck of meeting you."

This was yet another occasion I thought and dreamed replies that are now unnecessary to write down.

Translated by Sarah Denaci
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Author:Chitarroni, Luis
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:3ARGE
Date:Sep 22, 2013
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