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scott fitzgerald by F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

I

As long ago as 1860 it was the proper thing to be born at home. At present, so I am told, the high gods of medicine have decreed that the first cries of the young shall be uttered upon the anaesthetic air of a hospital, preferably a fashionable one. So young Mr. and Mrs. Roger Button were fifty years ahead of style when they decided, one day in the summer of 1860, that their first baby should be born in a hospital. Whether this anachronism had any bearing upon the astonishing history I am about to set down will never be known.

I shall tell you what occurred, and let you judge for yourself.

The Roger Buttons held an enviable position, both social and financial, in Antebellum Baltimore. They were related to the This Family and the That Family, which, as every Southerner knew, entitled them to membership in that enormous peerage which largely populated the Confederacy. This was their first experience with the charming old custom of having babies—Mr. Button was naturally nervous. He hoped it would be a boy so that he could be sent to Yale College in Connecticut, at which institution Mr. Button himself had been known for four years by the somewhat obvious nickname of "Cuff."

On the September morning consecrated to the enormous event he arose nervously at six o’clock, dressed himself, adjusted an impeccable stock, and hurried forth through the streets of Baltimore to the hospital, to determine whether the darkness of the night had borne in new life upon its bosom.

When he was approximately a hundred yards from the Maryland Private Hospital for Ladies and Gentlemen he saw Doctor Keene, the family physician, descending the front steps, rubbing his hands together with a washing movement—as all doctors are required to do by the unwritten ethics of their profession.

Mr. Roger Button, the president of Roger Button & Co., Wholesale Hardware, began to run toward Doctor Keene with much less dignity than was expected from a Southern gentleman of that picturesque period. "Doctor Keene!" he called. "Oh, Doctor Keene!"

The doctor heard him, faced around, and stood waiting, a curious expression settling on his harsh, medicinal face as Mr. Button drew near.

"What happened?" demanded Mr. Button, as he came up in a gasping rush. "What was it? How is she" A boy? Who is it? What―"

"Talk sense!" said Doctor Keene sharply. He appeared somewhat irritated.

"Is the child born?" begged Mr. Button.

Doctor Keene frowned. "Why, yes, I suppose so—after a fashion." Again he threw a curious glance at Mr. Button.

"Is my wife all right?"

"Yes."

"Is it a boy or a girl?"

"Here now!" cried Doctor Keene in a perfect passion of irritation, "I’ll ask you to go and see for yourself. Outrageous!" He snapped the last word out in almost one syllable, then he turned away muttering: "Do you imagine a case like this will help my professional reputation? One more would ruin me—ruin anybody."

"What’s the matter?" demanded Mr. Button appalled. "Triplets?"

"No, not triplets!" answered the doctor cuttingly. "What’s more, you can go and see for yourself. And get another doctor. I brought you into the world, young man, and I’ve been physician to your family for forty years, but I’m through with you! I don’t want to see you or any of your relatives ever again! Good-bye!"

Then he turned sharply, and without another word climbed into his phaeton, which was waiting at the curbstone, and drove severely away.

Mr. Button stood there upon the sidewalk, stupefied and trembling from head to foot. What horrible mishap had occurred? He had suddenly lost all desire to go into the Maryland Private Hospital for Ladies and Gentlemen—it was with the greatest difficulty that, a moment later, he forced himself to mount the steps and enter the front door.

A nurse was sitting behind a desk in the opaque gloom of the hall. Swallowing his shame, Mr. Button approached her.

"Good-morning," she remarked, looking up at him pleasantly.

"Good-morning. I—I am Mr. Button."

At this a look of utter terror spread itself over girl’s face. She rose to her feet and seemed about to fly from the hall, restraining herself only with the most apparent difficulty.

"I want to see my child," said Mr. Button.

The nurse gave a little scream. "Oh—of course!" she cried hysterically. "Upstairs. Right upstairs. Go—up!"

She pointed the direction, and Mr. Button, bathed in cool perspiration, turned falteringly, and began to mount to the second floor. In the upper hall he addressed another nurse who approached him, basin in hand. "I’m Mr. Button," he managed to articulate. "I want to see my―"

Clank! The basin clattered to the floor and rolled in the direction of the stairs. Clank! Clank! I began a methodical decent as if sharing in the general terror which this gentleman provoked.

"I want to see my child!" Mr. Button almost shrieked. He was on the verge of collapse.

Clank! The basin reached the first floor. The nurse regained control
of herself, and threw Mr. Button a look of hearty contempt.

"All right, Mr. Button," she agreed in a hushed voice. "Very
well! But if you knew what a state it’s put us all in this
morning! It’s perfectly outrageous! The hospital will never have
a ghost of a reputation after―"

"Hurry!" he cried hoarsely. "I can’t stand this!"

"Come this way, then, Mr. Button."

He dragged himself after her. At the end of a long hall they reached a
room from which proceeded a variety of howls—indeed, a room which, in
later parlance, would have been known as the "crying-room." They
entered.

"Well," gasped Mr. Button, "which is mine?"

"There!" said the nurse.

Mr. Button’s eyes followed her pointing finger, and this is what he
saw. Wrapped in a voluminous white blanket, and partly crammed into
one of the cribs, there sat an old man apparently about seventy years
of age. His sparse hair was almost white, and from his chin dripped a
long smoke-colored beard, which waved absurdly back and forth, fanned
by the breeze coming in at the window. He looked up at Mr. Button with
dim, faded eyes in which lurked a puzzled question.

"Am I mad?" thundered Mr. Button, his terror resolving into rage. "Is
this some ghastly hospital joke?

"It doesn’t seem like a joke to us," replied the nurse severely. "And
I don’t know whether you’re mad or not—but that is most certainly
your child."

The cool perspiration redoubled on Mr. Button’s forehead. He closed
his eyes, and then, opening them, looked again. There was no
mistake—he was gazing at a man of threescore and ten—a baby
of threescore and ten, a baby whose feet hung over the sides of the
crib in which it was reposing.

The old man looked placidly from one to the other for a moment, and
then suddenly spoke in a cracked and ancient voice. "Are you my
father?" he demanded.

Mr. Button and the nurse started violently.

"Because if you are," went on the old man querulously, "I wish you’d
get me out of this place—or, at least, get them to put a comfortable
rocker in here,"

"Where in God’s name did you come from? Who are you?" burst out Mr.
Button frantically.

"I can’t tell you exactly who I am," replied the querulous
whine, "because I’ve only been born a few hours—but my last name is
certainly Button."

"You lie! You’re an impostor!"

The old man turned wearily to the nurse. "Nice way to welcome a
new-born child," he complained in a weak voice. "Tell him he’s wrong,
why don’t you?"

"You’re wrong. Mr. Button," said the nurse severely. "This is your
child, and you’ll have to make the best of it. We’re going to ask you
to take him home with you as soon as possible―some time to-day."

"Home?" repeated Mr. Button incredulously.

"Yes, we can’t have him here. We really can’t, you know?"

"I’m right glad of it," whined the old man. "This is a fine place to
keep a youngster of quiet tastes. With all this yelling and howling, I
haven’t been able to get a wink of sleep. I asked for something to
eat"—here his voice rose to a shrill note of protest―"and they
brought me a bottle of milk!"

Mr. Button sank down upon a chair near his son and concealed his face
in his hands. "My heavens!" he murmured, in an ecstasy of horror.
"What will people say? What must I do?"

"You’ll have to take him home," insisted the nurse―"immediately!"

A grotesque picture formed itself with dreadful clarity before the
eyes of the tortured man—a picture of himself walking through the
crowded streets of the city with this appalling apparition stalking by
his side.

"I can’t. I can’t," he moaned.

People would stop to speak to him, and what was he going to say? He
would have to introduce this—this septuagenarian: "This is my son,
born early this morning." And then the old man would gather his
blanket around him and they would plod on, past the bustling stores,
the slave market—for a dark instant Mr. Button wished passionately
that his son was black—past the luxurious houses of the residential
district, past the home for the aged….

"Come! Pull yourself together," commanded the nurse.

"See here," the old man announced suddenly, "if you think I’m going to
walk home in this blanket, you’re entirely mistaken."

"Babies always have blankets."

With a malicious crackle the old man held up a small white swaddling
garment. "Look!" he quavered. "This is what they had ready for
me."

"Babies always wear those," said the nurse primly.

"Well," said the old man, "this baby’s not going to wear anything in
about two minutes. This blanket itches. They might at least have given
me a sheet."

"Keep it on! Keep it on!" said Mr. Button hurriedly. He turned to the
nurse. "What’ll I do?"

"Go down town and buy your son some clothes."

Mr. Button’s son’s voice followed him down into the: hall: "And a
cane, father. I want to have a cane."

Mr. Button banged the outer door savagely….

 

2

"Good-morning," Mr. Button said nervously, to the clerk in the
Chesapeake Dry Goods Company. "I want to buy some clothes for my
child."

"How old is your child, sir?"

"About six hours," answered Mr. Button, without due consideration.

"Babies’ supply department in the rear."

"Why, I don’t think―I’m not sure that’s what I want. It’s—he’s an
unusually large-size child. Exceptionally—ah large."

"They have the largest child’s sizes."

"Where is the boys’ department?" inquired Mr. Button, shifting his
ground desperately. He felt that the clerk must surely scent his
shameful secret.

"Right here."

"Well―" he hesitated. The notion of dressing his son in men’s
clothes was repugnant to him. If, say, he could only find a very large
boy’s suit, he might cut off that long and awful beard, dye the white
hair brown, and thus manage to conceal the worst, and to retain
something of his own self-respect—not to mention his position in
Baltimore society.

But a frantic inspection of the boys’ department revealed no suits to
fit the new-born Button. He blamed the store, of course―in such
cases it is the thing to blame the store.

"How old did you say that boy of yours was?" demanded the clerk
curiously.

"He’s—sixteen."

"Oh, I beg your pardon. I thought you said six hours. You’ll
find the youths’ department in the next aisle."

Mr. Button turned miserably away. Then he stopped, brightened, and
pointed his finger toward a dressed dummy in the window display.
"There!" he exclaimed. "I’ll take that suit, out there on the dummy."

The clerk stared. "Why," he protested, "that’s not a child’s suit. At
least it is, but it’s for fancy dress. You could wear it
yourself!"

"Wrap it up," insisted his customer nervously. "That’s what I want."

The astonished clerk obeyed.

Back at the hospital Mr. Button entered the nursery and almost threw
the package at his son. "Here’s your clothes," he snapped out.

The old man untied the package and viewed the contents with a
quizzical eye.

"They look sort of funny to me," he complained, "I don’t want to be
made a monkey of―"

"You’ve made a monkey of me!" retorted Mr. Button fiercely. "Never you
mind how funny you look. Put them on—or I’ll—or I’ll spank
you." He swallowed uneasily at the penultimate word, feeling
nevertheless that it was the proper thing to say.

"All right, father"―this with a grotesque simulation of filial
respect―"you’ve lived longer; you know best. Just as you say."

As before, the sound of the word "father" caused Mr. Button to start
violently.

"And hurry."

"I’m hurrying, father."

When his son was dressed Mr. Button regarded him with depression. The
costume consisted of dotted socks, pink pants, and a belted blouse
with a wide white collar. Over the latter waved the long whitish
beard, drooping almost to the waist. The effect was not good.

"Wait!"

Mr. Button seized a hospital shears and with three quick snaps
amputated a large section of the beard. But even with this improvement
the ensemble fell far short of perfection. The remaining brush of
scraggly hair, the watery eyes, the ancient teeth, seemed oddly out of
tone with the gaiety of the costume. Mr. Button, however, was
obdurate—he held out his hand. "Come along!" he said sternly.

His son took the hand trustingly. "What are you going to call me,
dad?" he quavered as they walked from the nursery—"just ‘baby’ for a
while? Till you think of a better name?"

Mr. Button grunted. "I don’t know," he answered harshly. "I think
we’ll call you Methuselah."

 

3

Even after the new addition to the Button family had had his hair cut
short and then dyed to a sparse unnatural black, had had his face
shaved so dose that it glistened, and had been attired in small-boy
clothes made to order by a flabbergasted tailor, it was impossible for
Button to ignore the fact that his son was an excuse for a first family
baby. Despite his aged stoop, Benjamin Button–for it was by this name
they called him instead of by the appropriate but invidious
Methuselah–was five feet eight inches tall. His clothes did not
conceal this, nor did the clipping and dyeing of his eyebrows disguise
the fact that the eyes under–were faded and watery and tired. In
fact, the baby-nurse who had been engaged in advance left the house
after one look, in a state of considerable indignation.

But Mr. Button persisted in his unwavering purpose. Benjamin was a
baby, and a baby he should remain. At first he declared that if
Benjamin didn’t like warm milk he could go without food altogether,
but he was finally prevailed upon to allow his son bread and butter,
and even oatmeal by way of a compromise. One day he brought home a
rattle and, giving it to Benjamin, insisted in no uncertain terms that
he should "play with it," whereupon the old man took it with—a weary
expression and could be heard jingling it obediently at intervals
throughout the day.

There can be no doubt, though, that the rattle bored him, and that he
found other and more soothing amusements when he was left alone. For
instance, Mr. Button discovered one day that during the preceding week
be had smoked more cigars than ever before–a phenomenon, which was
explained a few days later when, entering the nursery unexpectedly, he
found the room full of faint blue haze and Benjamin, with a guilty
expression on his face, trying to conceal the butt of a dark Havana.
This, of course, called for a severe spanking, but Mr. Button found
that he could not bring himself to administer it. He merely warned his
son that he would "stunt his growth."

Nevertheless he persisted in his attitude. He brought home lead
soldiers, he brought toy trains, he brought large pleasant animals
made of cotton, and, to perfect the illusion which he was
creating–for himself at least–he passionately demanded of the clerk
in the toy-store whether "the paint would come oft the pink duck if
the baby put it in his mouth." But, despite all his father’s efforts,
Benjamin refused to be interested. He would steal down the back stairs
and return to the nursery with a volume of the Encyclopedia
Britannica, over which he would pore through an afternoon, while his
cotton cows and his Noah’s ark were left neglected on the floor.
Against such a stubbornness Mr. Button’s efforts were of little avail.

The sensation created in Baltimore was, at first, prodigious. What the
mishap would have cost the Buttons and their kinsfolk socially cannot
be determined, for the outbreak of the Civil War drew the city’s
attention to other things. A few people who were unfailingly polite
racked their brains for compliments to give to the parents–and
finally hit upon the ingenious device of declaring that the baby
resembled his grandfather, a fact which, due to the standard state of
decay common to all men of seventy, could not be denied. Mr. and Mrs.
Roger Button were not pleased, and Benjamin’s grandfather was
furiously insulted.

Benjamin, once he left the hospital, took life as he found it. Several
small boys were brought to see him, and he spent a stiff-jointed
afternoon trying to work up an interest in tops and marbles–he even
managed, quite accidentally, to break a kitchen window with a stone
from a sling shot, a feat which secretly delighted his father.

Thereafter Benjamin contrived to break something every day, but he did
these things only because they were expected of him, and because he
was by nature obliging.

When his grandfather’s initial antagonism wore off, Benjamin and that
gentleman took enormous pleasure in one another’s company. They would
sit for hours, these two, so far apart in age and experience, and,
like old cronies, discuss with tireless monotony the slow events of
the day. Benjamin felt more at ease in his grandfather’s presence than
in his parents’–they seemed always somewhat in awe of him and,
despite the dictatorial authority they exercised over him, frequently
addressed him as "Mr."

He was as puzzled as any one else at the apparently advanced age of
his mind and body at birth. He read up on it in the medical journal,
but found that no such case had been previously recorded. At his
father’s urging he made an honest attempt to play with other boys, and
frequently he joined in the milder games–football shook him up too
much, and he feared that in case of a fracture his ancient bones would
refuse to knit.

When he was five he was sent to kindergarten, where he initiated into
the art of pasting green paper on orange paper, of weaving colored
maps and manufacturing eternal cardboard necklaces. He was inclined to
drowse off to sleep in the middle of these tasks, a habit which both
irritated and frightened his young teacher. To his relief she
complained to his parents, and he was removed from the school. The
Roger Buttons told their friends that they felt he was too young.

By the time he was twelve years old his parents had grown used to him.
Indeed, so strong is the force of custom that they no longer felt that
he was different from any other child–except when some curious
anomaly reminded them of the fact. But one day a few weeks after his
twelfth birthday, while looking in the mirror, Benjamin made, or
thought he made, an astonishing discovery. Did his eyes deceive him,
or had his hair turned in the dozen years of his life from white to
iron-gray under its concealing dye? Was the network of wrinkles on his
face becoming less pronounced? Was his skin healthier and firmer, with
even a touch of ruddy winter color? He could not tell. He knew that
he no longer stooped, and that his physical condition had improved
since the early days of his life.

"Can it be—-?" he thought to himself, or, rather, scarcely dared to
think.

He went to his father. "I am grown," he announced determinedly. "I
want to put on long trousers."

His father hesitated. "Well," he said finally, "I don’t know. Fourteen
is the age for putting on long trousers–and you are only twelve."

"But you’ll have to admit," protested Benjamin, "that I’m big for my
age."

His father looked at him with illusory speculation. "Oh, I’m not so
sure of that," he said. "I was as big as you when I was twelve."

This was not true-it was all part of Roger Button’s silent agreement
with himself to believe in his son’s normality.

Finally a compromise was reached. Benjamin was to continue to dye his
hair. He was to make a better attempt to play with boys of his own
age. He was not to wear his spectacles or carry a cane in the street.
In return for these concessions he was allowed his first suit of long
trousers….

 

4

Of the life of Benjamin Button between his twelfth and twenty-first
year I intend to say little. Suffice to record that they were years of
normal ungrowth. When Benjamin was eighteen he was erect as a man of
fifty; he had more hair and it was of a dark gray; his step was firm,
his voice had lost its cracked quaver and descended to a healthy
baritone. So his father sent him up to Connecticut to take
examinations for entrance to Yale College. Benjamin passed his
examination and became a member of the freshman class.

On the third day following his matriculation he received a
notification from Mr. Hart, the college registrar, to call at his
office and arrange his schedule. Benjamin, glancing in the mirror,
decided that his hair needed a new application of its brown dye, but
an anxious inspection of his bureau drawer disclosed that the dye
bottle was not there. Then he remembered–he had emptied it the day
before and thrown it away.

He was in a dilemma. He was due at the registrar’s in five minutes.
There seemed to be no help for it–he must go as he was. He did.

"Good-morning," said the registrar politely. "You’ve come to inquire
about your son."

"Why, as a matter of fact, my name’s Button—-" began Benjamin, but
Mr. Hart cut him off.

"I’m very glad to meet you, Mr. Button. I’m expecting your son here
any minute."

"That’s me!" burst out Benjamin. "I’m a freshman."

"What!"

"I’m a freshman."

"Surely you’re joking."

"Not at all."

The registrar frowned and glanced at a card before him. "Why, I have
Mr. Benjamin Button’s age down here as eighteen."

"That’s my age," asserted Benjamin, flushing slightly.

The registrar eyed him wearily. "Now surely, Mr. Button, you don’t
expect me to believe that."

Benjamin smiled wearily. "I am eighteen," he repeated.

The registrar pointed sternly to the door. "Get out," he said. "Get
out of college and get out of town. You are a dangerous lunatic."

"I am eighteen."

Mr. Hart opened the door. "The idea!" he shouted. "A man of your age
trying to enter here as a freshman. Eighteen years old, are you? Well,
I’ll give you eighteen minutes to get out of town."

Benjamin Button walked with dignity from the room, and half a dozen
undergraduates, who were waiting in the hall, followed him curiously
with their eyes. When he had gone a little way he turned around, faced
the infuriated registrar, who was still standing in the door-way, and
repeated in a firm voice: "I am eighteen years old."

To a chorus of titters which went up from the group of undergraduates,
Benjamin walked away.

But he was not fated to escape so easily. On his melancholy walk to
the railroad station he found that he was being followed by a group,
then by a swarm, and finally by a dense mass of undergraduates. The
word had gone around that a lunatic had passed the entrance
examinations for Yale and attempted to palm himself off as a youth of
eighteen. A fever of excitement permeated the college. Men ran hatless
out of classes, the football team abandoned its practice and joined
the mob, professors’ wives with bonnets awry and bustles out of
position, ran shouting after the procession, from which proceeded a
continual succession of remarks aimed at the tender sensibilities of
Benjamin Button.

"He must be the wandering Jew!"

"He ought to go to prep school at his age!"

"Look at the infant prodigy!" "He thought this was the old men’s
home."

"Go up to Harvard!"

Benjamin increased his gait, and soon he was running. He would show
them! He would go to Harvard, and then they would regret these
ill-considered taunts!

Safely on board the train for Baltimore, he put his head from the
window. "You’ll regret this!" he shouted.

"Ha-ha!" the undergraduates laughed. "Ha-ha-ha!" It was the biggest
mistake that Yale College had ever made….

 

5

In 1880 Benjamin Button was twenty years old, and he signalized his
birthday by going to work for his father in Roger Button & Co.,
Wholesale Hardware. It was in that same year that he began "going out
socially"–that is, his father insisted on taking him to several
fashionable dances. Roger Button was now fifty, and he and his son
were more and more companionable–in fact, since Benjamin had ceased
to dye his hair (which was still grayish) they appeared about the same
age, and could have passed for brothers.

One night in August they got into the phaeton attired in their
full-dress suits and drove out to a dance at the Shevlins’ country
house, situated just outside of Baltimore. It was a gorgeous evening.
A full moon drenched the road to the lusterless color of platinum,
and late-blooming harvest flowers breathed into the motionless air
aromas that were like low, half-heard laughter. The open country,
carpeted for rods around with bright wheat, was translucent as in the
day. It was almost impossible not to be affected by the sheer beauty
of the sky–almost.

"There’s a great future in the dry-goods business," Roger Button was
saying. He was not a spiritual man–his aesthetic sense was
rudimentary.

"Old fellows like me can’t learn new tricks," he observed profoundly.
"It’s you youngsters with energy and vitality that have the great
future before you."

Far up the road the lights of the Shevlins’ country house drifted into
view, and presently there was a sighing sound that crept persistently
toward them–it might have been the fine plaint of violins or the
rustle of the silver wheat under the moon.

They pulled up behind a handsome brougham whose passengers were
disembarking at the door. A lady got out, then an elderly gentleman,
then another young lady, beautiful as sin. Benjamin started; an almost
chemical change seemed to dissolve and recompose the very elements of
his body. A rigor passed over him, blood rose into his cheeks, his
forehead, and there was a steady thumping in his ears. It was first
love.

The girl was slender and frail, with hair that was ashen under the
moon and honey-colored under the sputtering gas-lamps of the porch.
Over her shoulders was thrown a Spanish mantilla of softest yellow,
butterflied in black; her feet were glittering buttons at the hem of
her bustled dress.

Roger Button leaned over to his son. "That," he said, "is young
Hildegarde Moncrief, the daughter of General Moncrief."

Benjamin nodded coldly. "Pretty little thing," he said indifferently.
But when the Negro boy had led the buggy away, he added: "Dad, you
might introduce me to her."

They approached a group, of which Miss Moncrief was the center. Reared
in the old tradition, she curtsied low before Benjamin. Yes, he might
have a dance. He thanked her and walked away–staggered away.

The interval until the time for his turn should arrive dragged itself
out interminably. He stood close to the wall, silent, inscrutable,
watching with murderous eyes the young bloods of Baltimore as they
eddied around Hildegarde Moncrief, passionate admiration in their
faces. How obnoxious they seemed to Benjamin; how intolerably rosy!
Their curling brown whiskers aroused in him a feeling equivalent to
indigestion.

But when his own time came, and he drifted with her out upon the
changing floor to the music of the latest waltz from Paris, his
jealousies and anxieties melted from him like a mantle of snow. Blind
with enchantment, he felt that life was just beginning.

"You and your brother got here just as we did, didn’t you?" asked
Hildegarde, looking up at him with eyes that were like bright blue
enamel.

Benjamin hesitated. If she took him for his father’s brother, would it
be best to enlighten her? He remembered his experience at Yale, so he
decided against it. It would be rude to contradict a lady; it would be
criminal to mar this exquisite occasion with the grotesque story of
his origin. Later, perhaps. So he nodded, smiled, listened, was happy.

"I like men of your age," Hildegarde told him. "Young boys are so
idiotic. They tell me how much champagne they drink at college, and
how much money they lose playing cards. Men of your age know how to
appreciate women."

Benjamin felt himself on the verge of a proposal–with an effort he
choked back the impulse. "You’re just the romantic age," she
continued–"fifty. Twenty-five is too wordly-wise; thirty is apt to be
pale from overwork; forty is the age of long stories that take a whole
cigar to tell; sixty is–oh, sixty is too near seventy; but fifty is
the mellow age. I love fifty."

Fifty seemed to Benjamin a glorious age. He longed passionately to be
fifty.

"I’ve always said," went on Hildegarde, "that I’d rather marry a man
of fifty and be taken care of than many a man of thirty and take care
of him."

For Benjamin the rest of the evening was bathed in a honey-colored
mist. Hildegarde gave him two more dances, and they discovered that
they were marvelously in accord on all the questions of the day. She
was to go driving with him on the following Sunday, and then they
would discuss all these questions further.

Going home in the phaeton just before the crack of dawn, when the
first bees were humming and the fading moon glimmered in the cool dew,
Benjamin knew vaguely that his father was discussing wholesale
hardware.

"…. And what do you think should merit our biggest attention after
hammers and nails?" the elder Button was saying.

"Love," replied Benjamin absent-mindedly.

"Lugs?" exclaimed Roger Button, "Why, I’ve just covered the question
of lugs."

Benjamin regarded him with dazed eyes just as the eastern sky was
suddenly cracked with light, and an oriole yawned piercingly in the
quickening trees…

 

6

When, six months later, the engagement of Miss Hildegarde Moncrief to
Mr. Benjamin Button was made known (I say "made known," for General
Moncrief declared he would rather fall upon his sword than announce
it), the excitement in Baltimore society reached a feverish pitch. The
almost forgotten story of Benjamin’s birth was remembered and sent out
upon the winds of scandal in picaresque and incredible forms. It was
said that Benjamin was really the father of Roger Button, that he was
his brother who had been in prison for forty years, that he was John
Wilkes Booth in disguise–and, finally, that he had two small conical
horns sprouting from his head.

The Sunday supplements of the New York papers played up the case with
fascinating sketches which showed the head of Benjamin Button attached
to a fish, to a snake, and, finally, to a body of solid brass. He
became known, journalistically, as the Mystery Man of Maryland. But
the true story, as is usually the case, had a very small circulation.

However, every one agreed with General Moncrief that it was "criminal"
for a lovely girl who could have married any beau in Baltimore to
throw herself into the arms of a man who was assuredly fifty. In vain
Mr. Roger Button published Us son’s birth certificate in large type in
the Baltimore Blaze. No one believed it. You had only to look
at Benjamin and see.

On the part of the two people most concerned there was no wavering. So
many of the stories about her fiance were false that Hildegarde
refused stubbornly to believe even the true one. In vain General
Moncrief pointed out to her the high mortality among men of fifty–or,
at least, among men who looked fifty; in vain he told her of the
instability of the wholesale hardware business. Hildegarde had chosen
to marry for mellowness, and marry she did….

 

7

In one particular, at least, the friends of Hildegarde Moncrief were
mistaken. The wholesale hardware business prospered amazingly. In the
fifteen years between Benjamin Button’s marriage in 1880 and his
father’s retirement in 1895, the family fortune was doubled–and this
was due largely to the younger member of the firm.

Needless to say, Baltimore eventually received the couple to its
bosom. Even old General Moncrief became reconciled to his son-in-law
when Benjamin gave him the money to bring out his
History of the
Civil War
in twenty volumes, which had been refused by nine
prominent publishers.

In Benjamin himself fifteen years had wrought many changes. It seemed
to him that the blood flowed with new vigor through his veins. It
began to be a pleasure to rise in the morning, to walk with an active
step along the busy, sunny street, to work untiringly with his
shipments of hammers and his cargoes of nails. It was in 1890 that he
executed his famous business coup: he brought up the suggestion that
all nails used in nailing up the boxes in which nails are shipped
are the property of the shippee
, a proposal which became a
statute, was approved by Chief Justice Fossile, and saved Roger Button
and Company, Wholesale Hardware, more than
six hundred nails every
year
.

In addition, Benjamin discovered that he was becoming more and more
attracted by the gay side of life. It was typical of his growing
enthusiasm for pleasure that he was the first man in the city of
Baltimore to own and run an automobile. Meeting him on the street, his
contemporaries would stare enviously at the picture he made of health
and vitality.

"He seems to grow younger every year," they would remark. And if old
Roger Button, now sixty-five years old, had failed at first to give a
proper welcome to his son he atoned at last by bestowing on him what
amounted to adulation.

And here we come to an unpleasant subject which it will be well to
pass over as quickly as possible. There was only one thing that
worried Benjamin Button; his wife had ceased to attract him.

At that time Hildegarde was a woman of thirty-five, with a son,
Roscoe, fourteen years old. In the early days of their marriage
Benjamin had worshipped her. But, as the years passed, her
honey-colored hair became an unexciting brown, the blue enamel of her
eyes assumed the aspect of cheap crockery–moreover, and, most of all,
she had become too settled in her ways, too placid, too content, too
anaemic in her excitements, and too sober in her taste. As a bride it
was she who had "dragged" Benjamin to dances and dinners–now
conditions were reversed. She went out socially with him, but without
enthusiasm, devoured already by that eternal inertia which comes to
live with each of us one day and stays with us to the end.

Benjamin’s discontent waxed stronger. At the outbreak of the
Spanish-American War in 1898 his home had for him so little charm that
he decided to join the army. With his business influence he obtained a
commission as captain, and proved so adaptable to the work that he was
made a major, and finally a lieutenant-colonel just in time to
participate in the celebrated charge up San Juan Hill. He was slightly
wounded, and received a medal.

Benjamin had become so attached to the activity and excitement of
array life that he regretted to give it up, but his business required
attention, so he resigned his commission and came home. He was met at
the station by a brass band and escorted to his house.

 

8

Hildegarde, waving a large silk flag, greeted him on the porch, and
even as he kissed her he felt with a sinking of the heart that these
three years had taken their toll. She was a woman of forty now, with a
faint skirmish line of gray hairs in her head. The sight depressed
him.

Up in his room he saw his reflection in the familiar mirror–he went
closer and examined his own face with anxiety, comparing it after a
moment with a photograph of himself in uniform taken just before the
war.

"Good Lord!" he said aloud. The process was continuing. There was no
doubt of it–he looked now like a man of thirty. Instead of being
delighted, he was uneasy–he was growing younger. He had hitherto
hoped that once he reached a bodily age equivalent to his age in
years, the grotesque phenomenon which had marked his birth would cease
to function. He shuddered. His destiny seemed to him awful,
incredible.

When he came downstairs Hildegarde was waiting for him. She appeared
annoyed, and he wondered if she had at last discovered that there was
something amiss. It was with an effort to relieve the tension between
them that he broached the matter at dinner in what he considered a
delicate way.

"Well," he remarked lightly, "everybody says I look younger than
ever."

Hildegarde regarded him with scorn. She sniffed. "Do you think it’s
anything to boast about?"

"I’m not boasting," he asserted uncomfortably. She sniffed again. "The
idea," she said, and after a moment: "I should think you’d have enough
pride to stop it."

"How can I?" he demanded.

"I’m not going to argue with you," she retorted. "But there’s a right
way of doing things and a wrong way. If you’ve made up your mind to be
different from everybody else, I don’t suppose I can stop you, but I
really don’t think it’s very considerate."

"But, Hildegarde, I can’t help it."

"You can too. You’re simply stubborn. You think you don’t want to be
like any one else. You always have been that way, and you always will
be. But just think how it would be if every one else looked at things
as you do–what would the world be like?"

As this was an inane and unanswerable argument Benjamin made no reply,
and from that time on a chasm began to widen between them. He wondered
what possible fascination she had ever exercised over him.

To add to the breach, he found, as the new century gathered headway,
that his thirst for gaiety grew stronger. Never a party of any kind in
the city of Baltimore but he was there, dancing with the prettiest of
the young married women, chatting with the most popular of the
debutantes, and finding their company charming, while his wife, a
dowager of evil omen, sat among the chaperons, now in haughty
disapproval, and now following him with solemn, puzzled, and
reproachful eyes.

"Look!" people would remark. "What a pity! A young fellow that age
tied to a woman of forty-five. He must be twenty years younger than
his wife." They had forgotten–as people inevitably forget–that back
in 1880 their mammas and papas had also remarked about this same
ill-matched pair.

Benjamin’s growing unhappiness at home was compensated for by his many
new interests. He took up golf and made a great success of it. He went
in for dancing: in 1906 he was an expert at "The Boston," and in 1908
he was considered proficient at the "Maxine," while in 1909 his
"Castle Walk" was the envy of every young man in town.

His social activities, of course, interfered to some extent with his
business, but then he had worked hard at wholesale hardware for
twenty-five years and felt that he could soon hand it on to his son,
Roscoe, who had recently graduated from Harvard.

He and his son were, in fact, often mistaken for each other. This
pleased Benjamin–he soon forgot the insidious fear which had come
over him on his return from the Spanish-American War, and grew to take
a naive pleasure in his appearance. There was only one fly in the
delicious ointment–he hated to appear in public with his wife.
Hildegarde was almost fifty, and the sight of her made him feel
absurd….

 

9

One September day in 1910 – a few years after Roger Button & Co.,
Wholesale Hardware, had been handed over to young Roscoe Button – a
man, apparently about twenty years old, entered himself as a freshman
at Harvard University in Cambridge. He did not make the mistake of
announcing that he would never see fifty again, nor did he mention the
fact that his son had been graduated from the same institution ten
years before.

He was admitted, and almost immediately attained a prominent position
in the class, partly because he seemed a little older than the other
freshmen, whose average age was about eighteen.

But his success was largely due to the fact that in the football game
with Yale he played so brilliantly, with so much dash and with such a
cold, remorseless anger that he scored seven touchdowns and fourteen
field goals for Harvard, and caused one entire eleven of Yale men to
be carried singly from the field, unconscious. He was the most
celebrated man in college.

Strange to say, in his third or junior year he was scarcely able to
"make" the team. The coaches said that he had lost weight, and it
seemed to the more observant among them that he was not quite as tall
as before. He made no touchdowns–indeed, he was retained on the team
chiefly in hope that his enormous reputation would bring terror and
disorganization to the Yale team.

In his senior year he did not make the team at all. He had grown so
slight and frail that one day he was taken by some sophomores for a
freshman, an incident which humiliated him terribly. He became known
as something of a prodigy–a senior who was surely no more than
sixteen–and he was often shocked at the worldliness of some of his
classmates. His studies seemed harder to him–he felt that they were
too advanced. He had heard his classmates speak of St. Midas’s, the
famous preparatory school, at which so many of them had prepared for
college, and he determined after his graduation to enter himself at
St. Midas’s, where the sheltered life among boys his own size would be
more congenial to him.

Upon his graduation in 1914 he went home to Baltimore with his Harvard
diploma in his pocket. Hildegarde was now residing in Italy, so
Benjamin went to live with his son, Roscoe. But though he was welcomed
in a general way there was obviously no heartiness in Roscoe’s feeling
toward him–there was even perceptible a tendency on his son’s part to
think that Benjamin, as he moped about the house in adolescent
mooniness, was somewhat in the way. Roscoe was married now and
prominent in Baltimore life, and he wanted no scandal to creep out in
connection with his family.

Benjamin, no longer persona grata with the debutantes and
younger college set, found himself left much done, except for the
companionship of three or four fifteen-year-old boys in the
neighborhood. His idea of going to St. Midas’s school recurred to
him.

"Say," he said to Roscoe one day, "I’ve told you over and over that I
want to go to prep school."

"Well, go, then," replied Roscoe shortly. The matter was distasteful
to him, and he wished to avoid a discussion.

"I can’t go alone," said Benjamin helplessly. "You’ll have to enter me
and take me up there."

"I haven’t got time," declared Roscoe abruptly. His eyes narrowed and
he looked uneasily at his father. "As a matter of fact," he added,
"you’d better not go on with this business much longer. You better
pull up short. You better–you better"–he paused and his face
crimsoned as he sought for words–"you better turn right around and
start back the other way. This has gone too far to be a joke. It isn’t
funny any longer. You–you behave yourself!"

Benjamin looked at him, on the verge of tears.

"And another thing," continued Roscoe, "when visitors are in the house
I want you to call me ‘Uncle’–not ‘Roscoe,’ but ‘Uncle,’ do you
understand? It looks absurd for a boy of fifteen to call me by my
first name. Perhaps you’d better call me ‘Uncle’ all the time,
so you’ll get used to it."

With a harsh look at his father, Roscoe turned away….

 

10

At the termination of this interview, Benjamin wandered dismally
upstairs and stared at himself in the mirror. He had not shaved for
three months, but he could find nothing on his face but a faint white
down with which it seemed unnecessary to meddle. When he had first
come home from Harvard, Roscoe had approached him with the proposition
that he should wear eye-glasses and imitation whiskers glued to his
cheeks, and it had seemed for a moment that the farce of his early
years was to be repeated. But whiskers had itched and made him
ashamed. He wept and Roscoe had reluctantly relented.

Benjamin opened a book of boys’ stories, The Boy Scouts in Bimini
Bay
, and began to read. But he found himself thinking persistently
about the war. America had joined the Allied cause during the
preceding month, and Benjamin wanted to enlist, but, alas, sixteen was
the minimum age, and he did not look that old. His true age, which was
fifty-seven, would have disqualified him, anyway.

There was a knock at his door, and the butler appeared with a letter
bearing a large official legend in the corner and addressed to Mr.
Benjamin Button. Benjamin tore it open eagerly, and read the enclosure
with delight. It informed him that many reserve officers who had
served in the Spanish-American War were being called back into service
with a higher rank, and it enclosed his commission as brigadier-general
in the United States army with orders to report immediately.

Benjamin jumped to his feet fairly quivering with enthusiasm. This was
what he had wanted. He seized his cap, and ten minutes later he had
entered a large tailoring establishment on Charles Street, and asked
in his uncertain treble to be measured for a uniform.

"Want to play soldier, sonny?" demanded a clerk casually.

Benjamin flushed. "Say! Never mind what I want!" he retorted angrily.
"My name’s Button and I live on Mt. Vernon Place, so you know I’m good
for it."

"Well," admitted the clerk hesitantly, "if you’re not, I guess your
daddy is, all right."

Benjamin was measured, and a week later his uniform was completed. He
had difficulty in obtaining the proper general’s insignia because the
dealer kept insisting to Benjamin that a nice V.W.C.A. badge would
look just as well and be much more fun to play with.

Saying nothing to Roscoe, he left the house one night and proceeded by
train to Camp Mosby, in South Carolina, where he was to command an
infantry brigade. On a sultry April day he approached the entrance to
the camp, paid off the taxicab which had brought him from the station,
and turned to the sentry on guard.

"Get some one to handle my luggage!" he said briskly.

The sentry eyed him reproachfully. "Say," he remarked, "where you
goin’ with the general’s duds, sonny?"

Benjamin, veteran of the Spanish-American War, whirled upon him with
fire in his eye, but with, alas, a changing treble voice.

"Come to attention!" he tried to thunder; he paused for breath–then
suddenly he saw the sentry snap his heels together and bring his rifle
to the present. Benjamin concealed a smile of gratification, but when
he glanced around his smile faded. It was not he who had inspired
obedience, but an imposing artillery colonel who was approaching on
horseback.

"Colonel!" called Benjamin shrilly.

The colonel came up, drew rein, and looked coolly down at him with a
twinkle in his eyes. "Whose little boy are you?" he demanded kindly.

"I’ll soon darn well show you whose little boy I am!" retorted
Benjamin in a ferocious voice. "Get down off that horse!"

The colonel roared with laughter.

"You want him, eh, general?"

"Here!" cried Benjamin desperately. "Read this." And he thrust his
commission toward the colonel. The colonel read it, his eyes popping
from their sockets. "Where’d you get this?" he demanded, slipping the
document into his own pocket. "I got it from the Government, as you’ll
soon find out!" "You come along with me," said the colonel with a
peculiar look. "We’ll go up to headquarters and talk this over. Come
along." The colonel turned and began walking his horse in the
direction of headquarters. There was nothing for Benjamin to do but
follow with as much dignity as possible–meanwhile promising himself a
stern revenge. But this revenge did not materialize. Two days later,
however, his son Roscoe materialized from Baltimore, hot and cross
from a hasty trip, and escorted the weeping general, sans
uniform, back to his home.

 

11

In 1920 Roscoe Button’s first child was born. During the attendant
festivities, however, no one thought it "the thing" to mention, that
the little grubby boy, apparently about ten years of age who played
around the house with lead soldiers and a miniature circus, was the
new baby’s own grandfather.

No one disliked the little boy whose fresh, cheerful face was crossed
with just a hint of sadness, but to Roscoe Button his presence was a
source of torment. In the idiom of his generation Roscoe did not
consider the matter "efficient." It seemed to him that his father, in
refusing to look sixty, had not behaved like a "red-blooded
he-man"–this was Roscoe’s favorite expression–but in a curious and
perverse manner. Indeed, to think about the matter for as much as a
half an hour drove him to the edge of insanity. Roscoe believed that
"live wires" should keep young, but carrying it out on such a scale
was–was–was inefficient. And there Roscoe rested.

Five years later Roscoe’s little boy had grown old enough to play
childish games with little Benjamin under the supervision of the same
nurse. Roscoe took them both to kindergarten on the same day, and
Benjamin found that playing with little strips of colored paper,
making mats and chains and curious and beautiful designs, was the most
fascinating game in the world. Once he was bad and had to stand in the
corner–then he cried–but for the most part there were gay hours in
the cheerful room, with the sunlight coming in the windows and Miss
Bailey’s kind hand resting for a moment now and then in his tousled
hair.

Roscoe’s son moved up into the first grade after a year, but Benjamin
stayed on in the kindergarten. He was very happy. Sometimes when other
tots talked about what they would do when they grew up a shadow would
cross his little face as if in a dim, childish way he realized that
those were things in which he was never to share.

The days flowed on in monotonous content. He went back a third year to
the kindergarten, but he was too little now to understand what the
bright shining strips of paper were for. He cried because the other
boys were bigger than he, and he was afraid of them. The teacher
talked to him, but though he tried to understand he could not
understand at all.

He was taken from the kindergarten. His nurse, Nana, in her starched
gingham dress, became the center of his tiny world. On bright days
they walked in the park; Nana would point at a great gray monster and
say "elephant," and Benjamin would say it after her, and when he was
being undressed for bed that night he would say it over and over aloud
to her: "Elyphant, elyphant, elyphant." Sometimes Nana let him jump on
the bed, which was fun, because if you sat down exactly right it would
bounce you up on your feet again, and if you said "Ah" for a long time
while you jumped you got a very pleasing broken vocal effect.

He loved to take a big cane from the hat-rack and go around hitting
chairs and tables with it and saying: "Fight, fight, fight." When
there were people there the old ladies would cluck at him, which
interested him, and the young ladies would try to kiss him, which he
submitted to with mild boredom. And when the long day was done at five
o’clock he would go upstairs with Nana and be fed on oatmeal and nice
soft mushy foods with a spoon.

There were no troublesome memories in his childish sleep; no token
came to him of his brave days at college, of the glittering years when
he flustered the hearts of many girls. There were only the white, safe
walls of his crib and Nana and a man who came to see him sometimes,
and a great big orange ball that Nana pointed at just before his
twilight bed hour and called "sun." When the sun went his eyes were
sleepy–there were no dreams, no dreams to haunt him.

The past–the wild charge at the head of his men up San Juan Hill; the
first years of his marriage when he worked late into the summer dusk
down in the busy city for young Hildegarde whom he loved; the days
before that when he sat smoking far into the night in the gloomy old
Button house on Monroe Street with his grandfather―all these had faded
like unsubstantial dreams from his mind as though they had never been.
He did not remember.

He did not remember clearly whether the milk was warm or cool at his
last feeding or how the days passed–there was only his crib and
Nana’s familiar presence. And then he remembered nothing. When he was
hungry he cried–that was all. Through the noons and nights he
breathed and over him there were soft mumblings and murmurings that he
scarcely heard, and faintly differentiated smells, and light and
darkness.

Then it was all dark, and his white crib and the dim faces that moved
above him, and the warm sweet aroma of the milk, faded out altogether
from his mind.

200px-Benjamin_Button_poster

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Η μεταπράτηση γενικών ιδεών – εκείνων που βρίσκονται στη διασταύρωση των “ανθρωπιστικών” επιστημών, της φιλοσοφίας και της πολιτικής σκέψης άρχισε να αποφέρει καλά κέρδη.

Κορνήλιου Καστοριάδη Η άνοδος της ασημαντότητας

androulakis1 Επειδή, πριν απ’ όλα, είναι πονηρός, ο Μίμης Ανδρουλάκης ήξερε από νωρίς πως για να γίνει κανείς Έλληνας συγγραφέας και μάλιστα τόσο επιτυχημενος όσο σχεδίαζε ο ίδιος, πρέπει, πρώτα, οπωσδήποτε να θητεύσει ως κομματικό στέλεχος.  Γιατί, μόνο ως απαράτσικ αποκτά κανείς και το ταλέντο και (ακόμα σημαντικότερο) τις γνωριμίες απαραίτητες για την κατοπινή λογοτεχνική του σταδιοδρομία.

Ως διορατικός αγωνιστής του Πολυτεχνείου (ούτε μισή σφαλιάρα), ψιλιάστηκε ότι η σταλινική αριστερά είναι το μέλλον της Ελλάδας της Μεταπολίτευσης.  Έτσι πήγε στο ΚΚΕ εξωτερικού και από το ΚΚΕ εξωτερικού στο ΚΚΕ εσωτερικού.  Το 1993 κατάλαβε ότι η πονηριά του μητσοτακοκομμουνισμού δεν κατάφερε να εξοντώσει τον Ανδρέα (ζεις, εσύ μας οδηγείς) και, πονηρός καθώς είναι, πήγε στο ΠΑΣΟΚ.

Στο αρχηγικό (κατά τη δική του άποψη) ΠΑΣΟΚ βρήκε ο Μίμης την παλιοπαρέα του.  Τα παιδιά με τα οποία κάποτε τιργυρνούσε (σαν τις νταλίκες; σαν την άδικη κατάρα;) στην Αθήνα ετοιμάζοντας το έδαφος για την επικείμενη σοσιαλιστική επανάσταση που βέβαια δεν έγινε ποτέ.

Δε φορούσαν πια σκισμένες σαγιονάρες, αλλά παπούτσια Gucci και κοστούμια Armani.  Είχαν αποκτήσει πολυτελή αυτοκίνητα, βίλες, σωματοφύλακες, υπηρέτριες, και άλλες βίλες, offshore εταιρείες, σικ γκόμενες, κουμπαρίες με επιχειρηματίες.  Είχαν γίνει ζάπλουτοι σε βάρος του λαού τους (υπέρ του οποίου, εννοείται, δημηγορούσαν ακούραστα).  Δεν ήξεραν πια τι έχουν.  Το μόνο που ήξεραν ήταν ότι αυτά που έχουν, δεν τα έχουν στην Ελλάδα, αλλά σε άλλα, πιο ασφαλή γι’ αυτούς, μέρη του κόσμου.

Ο Μίμης μας θαύμασε πολύ την εξέλιξη της παλιοπαρέας του και, πονηρός καθώς είναι, κατάλαβε ότι δεν είμαστε πια για μεσοβέζικες λύσεις κι έτσι έκατσε στο ΠΑΣΟΚ.  Γιατί οι άλλοι τι παραπάνω μπορούν να του προσφέρουν;  Μπορούν να τον κάνουν, ας πούμε, υπουργό επί Παντός του Επιστητού, όπως θα τον κάνει ο Γιωργάκης;

Και τώρα ο Μίμης μας κάθεται φρόνιμα στο ΠΑΣΟΚ και όπου βρεθεί και όπου σταθεί το εγκωμιάζει ως το πλέον ελεύθερο ελληνικό πολιτικό κόμμα.  Λες και άλλαξε κάτι στο συγκεκριμένο χώρο από το 1989 που πήγε, μαζί με το Μητσοτάκη, να το διαλύσει.

Τίποτα δεν άλλαξε.  Όλα τα ελληνικά κόμματα είναι όπως ήταν πάντα και ο Μίμης Ανδρουλάκης παρέμεινε μόνιμος απαράτσικ και τίποτα άλλο.

Ένας απαράτσικ είναι, εξ ορισμού, κακός συγγραφέας και ο Μίμης, σαν καλό παιδί που είναι, δεν αποτελεί καμιά εξαίρεση σ’ αυτόν τον κανόνα.  Μάλλον τον επιβεβαιώνει.  Γι’ αυτό δεν αξίζει τον κόπο καν να αναφερθεί κανείς στον αχταρμά των λέξεων που, ελλείψει κάθε ουσιώδους κριτηρίου από μέρους του αναγνωστικού κοινού, ο androulakisίδιος και οι φίλοι του μπορούν και αποκαλούν λογοτεχνία.

Όποιος έχει διαβάσει σοβαρούς συγγραφείς, δεν μπορεί παρά να κατατάξει τον Ανδρουλάκη στο πάνθεον των σταλινικών συγγραφέων-απαράτσικ, τους οποίους τόσο γλαφυρά περιγράφει ο Μπουλγκάκοφ στο «Ο Μαιτρ και η Μαργαρίτα».

Τα πράγματα είναι απλά: τα βιβλία του Ανδρουλάκη εκδίδονται επειδή ο ίδιος είναι γνωστός, μια φάτσα αναγνωρίσιμη από τις πολιτικές συγκεντρώσεις, τη Βουλή και την τηλεόραση.  Μαζί με τα βιβλία του όμως – εκδίδεται και ο ίδιος.

Αγαπητέ κύριε Υπεύθυνε Ύλης του blogos.gr

Επειδή έχουμε (μεγάλες, δυστυχώς) αμφιβολίες ότι διαβάσατε το email που σας στείλαμε στις 7/12/08 και στο οποίο σας παρακαλούμε να ΜΗΝ ΠΕΡΙΛΑΒΕΤΕ ΤΑ BLOG ΜΑΣ ΣΤΟ blogos.gr ακόμα και αν "περνούσαν" με επιτυχία τις "εξετάσεις" στις οποίες θα τα υποβάλατε, σας αποστέλλουμε ξανά το συγκεκριμένο email.  Το οποίο εξάλλου δημοσιεύτηκε, μαζί με το δικό σας (το περί εξέτασης) και στα δύο blog μας με τίτλο Μπλογκοεξεταστές.  Πράγμα το οποίο, φυσικά, θα κάνουμε και με το σημερινό.

Αγαπητοί κύριοι του blogos.gr
Δυστυχώς δεν μπορούμε να ακολουθήσουμε την προτροπή σας να μην απαντούμε σε αυτό το μήνυμα.  Χρειαζόμαστε κάποιες διευκρινίσεις, κατ’ αρχήν επειδή το email σας είναι πρωτότυπο.  Κανένα άλλο, ελληνικό ή ξένο, blog aggregator δε μας έστειλε ποτέ παρόμοιο μήνυμα.  Όλα, απλώς, μας περιέλαβαν στη λίστα των blogs.
Εξηγείστε μας, λοιπόν, τι ακριβώς εννοείτε με τη φράση: Το blog σας θα εξεταστεί το συντομότερο δυνατόν;
Αφήνουμε κατά μέρος το γεγονός ότι η φράση αυτή απηχεί τη νοοτροπία εισαγγελέα ή (κατώτερου) υπάλληλο δημόσιας υπηρεσίας.  Εκείνο που μας ενδιαφέρει είναι να μάθουμε τι ακριβώς εξετάζετε σε ένα blog.  Τι θα εξετάσετε στο blog μας;  Την καλαισθησία της εμφάνισής του, την πολιτική του ορθότητα… ή κάτι άλλο;
Περιττό να πούμε, αγαπητοί κύριοι του blogos.gr, ότι τα συγκεκριμένα δύο blog μας ήδη εξετάστηκε – επιδοκιμάστηκε και αποδοκιμάστηκε – από τους αναγνώστες τους με τον πλέον κατάλληλο τρόπο.  Χρειάζεται, λοιπόν, κάποια περαιτέρω "εξέταση", τη στιγμή, μάλιστα, που το The Universal Directionist και το Destination είναι καθημερινά στη διάθεση όλης της λεγόμενης μπλογκόσφαιρας;
Γι’ αυτούς τους λόγους, λοιπόν, σας παρακαλούμε, αγαπητοί κύριοι του blogos.gr:
ΜΗΝ ΣΥΜΠΕΡΙΛΑΒΕΤΕ ΣΤΟ BLOG AGGREGATOR ΣΑΣ ΤΑ ΔΥΟ BLOG ΠΟΥ ΣΑΣ ΠΡΟΤΕΙΝΑΜΕ.
Ευχαριστούμε για την κατανόηση,
Directionist
ΥΓ. Εξυπακούεται ότι και το δικό σας και το δικό μας email θα δημοσιευθούν στο Universal Directionist και το Destination.

Το σημερινό email σας όμως μας γέννησε ένα ερώτημα που δεν μπορούμε να μη σας το θέσουμε.  Βλέπουμε πως τα δύο μπλογκ μας που, παρά την ευγενική παράκλησή μας, συμπεριλάβατε στο blog aggregator σας, τα καταχωρήσατε στην κατηγορία gadgets!

Πέστε μας, πώς το κάνατε αυτό, τη στιγμή που η περιγραφή του The Universal Directionist λέει "Για ανθρώπους που σκέφτονται να αυτο-νομηθούν";

Μήπως (σκεφτόμαστε εμείς, ίσως αφελώς) δε γνωρίζετε τι σημαίνουν οι λέξεις αυτονόμηση και αυτονομούμαι;  Αν είναι έτσι, το μόνο που θέλουμε να σας πούμε είναι ότι ΔΕΝ ΕΧΟΥΝ ΚΑΜΙΑ ΣΧΕΣΗ ΜΕ GADGETS.

Εν πάση περιπτώσει, σας παρακαλούμε εκ νέου ΝΑ ΑΦΑΙΡΕΣΕΤΕ ΤΑ ΜΠΛΟΓΚ ΜΑΣ ΑΠΟ ΤΗ ΛΙΣΤΑ ΣΑΣ.

Ευχαριστούμε πολύ και σας ευχόμαστε καλή ανάγνωση.

Φιλικά,

directionist, Μάρκος Ικαριώτης, Χαράλαμπος Αβρός

Μπλογκοεξεταστές

Χτες μας ήρθε το ακόλουθο email από το ελληνικό blog aggregator blogos.gr:

From: form@blogos.gr

Sent: Saturday, December 06, 2008 8:55 PM

To: paradoxtexts@live.com

Subject: Η αίτησής σας εστάλη με επιτυχία στο Blogos.gr!

Αγαπητέ directionist,

Ευχαριστούμε για την πρότασή σας.

Το blog σας θα εξεταστεί το συντομότερο δυνατόν!

Με εκτίμηση, Blogos.gr

Αυτόματη απάντηση, παρακαλούμε μην απαντάτε σε αυτό το email – 6 Δεκεμβρίου 2008.

Επειδή η δεύτερη φράση του email μας έκανε ανεξίτηλη εντύπωση, δεν μπορούσαμε να μην αντιδράσουμε.

Αγαπητοί κύριοι του blogos.gr

Δυστυχώς δεν μπορούμε να ακολουθήσουμε την προτροπή σας να μην απαντούμε σε αυτό το μήνυμα.  Χρειαζόμαστε κάποιες διευκρινίσεις, κατ’ αρχήν επειδή το email σας είναι πρωτότυπο.  Κανένα άλλο, ελληνικό ή ξένο, blog aggregator δε μας έστειλε ποτέ παρόμοιο μήνυμα.  Όλα, απλώς, μας περιέλαβαν στη λίστα των blogs.

Εξηγήστε μας, λοιπόν, τι ακριβώς εννοείτε με τη φράση: Το blog σας θα εξεταστεί το συντομότερο δυνατόν;

Αφήνουμε κατά μέρος το γεγονός ότι η φράση αυτή απηχεί τη νοοτροπία εισαγγελέα ή (κατώτερου) υπάλληλου δημόσιας υπηρεσίας.  Εκείνο που μας ενδιαφέρει είναι να μάθουμε τι ακριβώς εξετάζετε σε ένα blog.  Τι θα εξετάσετε στο blog μας;  Την καλαισθησία της εμφάνισής του, την πολιτική του ορθότητα… ή κάτι άλλο;

Περιττό να πούμε, αγαπητοί κύριοι του blogos.gr, ότι τα συγκεκριμένα δύο blog μας ήδη εξετάστηκαν – επιδοκιμάστηκαν και αποδοκιμάστηκαν – από τους αναγνώστες τους με τον πλέον κατάλληλο τρόπο.  Χρειάζεται, λοιπόν, κάποια περαιτέρω “εξέταση”, τη στιγμή, μάλιστα, που το The Universal Directionist και το Destination είναι καθημερινά στη διάθεση όλης της λεγόμενης μπλογκόσφαιρας;

Γι’ αυτούς τους λόγους, λοιπόν, σας παρακαλούμε, αγαπητοί κύριοι του blogos.gr:

ΜΗΝ ΣΥΜΠΕΡΙΛΑΒΕΤΕ ΣΤΟ BLOG AGGREGATOR ΣΑΣ ΤΑ ΔΥΟ BLOG ΠΟΥ ΣΑΣ ΠΡΟΤΕΙΝΑΜΕ.

Ευχαριστούμε για την κατανόηση,

Directionist

ΥΓ. Εξυπακούεται ότι και το δικό σας και το δικό μας email θα δημοσιευθούν στο Universal Directionist και το Destination.

Αυτοκρατορικό μήνυμα

kafka

Ο αυτοκράτορας, έτσι λένε, απ’ το νεκροκρέβατό του έστειλε μήνυμα μόνο  σ’ εσένα, τον παθητικό υπήκοό του, τη μικρή σκιά που βρήκε καταφύγιο πολύ μακριά απ’ το φως του αυτοκρατορικού ήλιου. Διέταξε τον αγγελιοφόρο του να γονατίσει δίπλα στο κρεβάτι του και ψιθύρισε το μήνυμα στ’ αφτί του. Θεωρούσε πολύ σημαντικό το να του επαναλάβει ο αγγελιοφόρος το μήνυμα. Επιβεβαίωσε την ακρίβεια του προφερόμενου μηνύματος μ’ ένα νεύμα. Μπροστά στο πλήθος που παρακολουθούσε τη σκηνή του θανάτου του ― αφού οι τοίχοι τριγύρω που στέκονταν εμπόδιο έχουν πέσει πια και όλοι οι μεγάλοι της αυτοκρατορίας παρατάχθηκαν σε κύκλο πάνω στα φαρδιά, ψηλά κεφαλόσκαλα ― μπροστά σ’ όλους αυτούς απέστειλε τον αγγελιοφόρο του. Ο αγγελιοφόρος, ένας δυνατός, ακούραστος άνθρωπος, ξεκινάει αμέσως. Προτάσσοντας πρώτα τον έναν και ύστερα τον άλλο βραχίονα, για να διατρυπήσει το πλήθος. Αν βρει αντίσταση, δείχνει το έμβλημα του ήλιου στο στήθος του. Γι’ αυτό προχωράει εύκολα, όπως δε θα μπορούσε κανένας άλλος. Όμως το πλήθος είναι πολύ μεγάλο· κατοικεί σε αναρίθμητους τόπους. Αν ήταν μια ανοιχτή πεδιάδα θα τη διέσχιζε πετώντας και γρήγορα θα άκουγες τη θαυμαστή γροθιά του να χτυπάει την πόρτα σου. Όμως οι προσπάθειές του είναι, όλες, μάταιες. Ακόμα δεν έχει καταφέρει να βγει απ’ τα ιδιαίτερα δωμάτια των εσωτερικών ανακτόρων. Ποτέ δε θα καταφέρει να βγει από κει. Αλλά ακόμα και αν τα κατάφερνε, δε θα κατόρθωνε τίποτα. Θα έπρεπε να παλέψει για να κατέβει τη σκάλα, μα ακόμα και αν κατάφερνε να το κάνει αυτό, δε θα κατόρθωνε τίποτα. Θα έπρεπε, με μεγάλα βήματα, να δρασκελίσει τα προαύλια και μετά τα προαύλια, τα δεύτερο ανάκτορα που περικλείουν τα πρώτα και έπειτα, ξανά, σκάλες και έπειτα, ξανά, ανάκτορα και ούτω καθεξής για χιλιάδες χρόνια. Μα ακόμα και αν τελικά κατάφερνε να πεταχτεί έξω απ’ την πιο εξωτερική πόρτα ― κάτι που ποτέ, μα ποτέ δεν πρόκειται να συμβεί ― μπροστά του θα έχει την πρωτεύουσα της αυτοκρατορίας, ένα σωρό ιζήματα που υψώνεται ψηλά. Κανείς δεν περνάει από δω, ιδιαίτερα όχι κάποιος που κουβαλάει το μήνυμα ενός νεκρού. Εσύ όμως κάθεσαι δίπλα στο παράθυρό σου και ονειρεύεσαι αυτό το μήνυμα ενώ πέφτει η νύχτα.

The Aleph

O God! I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a King of infinite space…

Hamlet, II, 2

But they will teach us that Eternity is the Standing still of the Present Time, a Nunc-stans (as the schools call it); which neither they, nor any else understand, no more than they would a Hic-stans for an Infinite greatness of Place.

Leviathan, IV, 46

borges_in_crete

On the burning February morning Beatriz Viterbo died, after braving an agony that never for a single moment gave way to self-pity or fear, I noticed that the sidewalk billboards around Constitution Plaza were advertising some new brand or other of American cigarettes. The fact pained me, for I realised that the wide and ceaseless universe was already slipping away from her and that this slight change was the first of an endless series. The universe may change but not me, I thought with a certain sad vanity. I knew that at times my fruitless devotion had annoyed her; now that she was dead, I could devote myself to her memory, without hope but also without humiliation. I recalled that the thirtieth of April was her birthday; on that day to visit her house on Garay Street and pay my respects to her father and to Carlos Argentino Daneri, her first cousin, would be an irreproachable and perhaps unavoidable act of politeness. Once again I would wait in the twilight of the small, cluttered drawing room, once again I would study the details of her many photographs: Beatriz Viterbo in profile and in full colour; Beatriz wearing a mask, during the Carnival of 1921; Beatriz at her First Communion; Beatriz on the day of her wedding to Roberto Alessandri; Beatriz soon after her divorce, at a luncheon at the Turf Club; Beatriz at a seaside resort in Quilmes with Delia San Marco Porcel and Carlos Argentino; Beatriz with the Pekingese lapdog given her by Villegas Haedo; Beatriz, front and three-quarter views, smiling, hand on her chin… I would not be forced, as in the past, to justify my presence with modest offerings of books ― books whose pages I finally learned to cut beforehand, so as not to find out, months later, that they lay around unopened.

Beatriz Viterbo died in 1929. From that time on, I never let a thirtieth of April go by without a visit to her house. I used to make my appearance at seven-fifteen sharp and stay on for some twenty-five minutes. Each year, I arrived a little later and stayed a little longer. In 1933, a torrential downpour coming to my aid, they were obliged to ask me for dinner. Naturally, I took advantage of that lucky precedent. In 1934, I arrived, just after eight, with one of those large Santa Fe sugared cakes, and quite matter-of-factly I stayed to dinner. It was in this way, on these melancholy and vainly erotic anniversaries, that I came into the gradual confidences of Carlos Argentino Daneri.

Beatriz had been tall, frail, slightly stooped; in her walk there was (if the oxymoron may be allowed) a kind of uncertain grace, a hint of expectancy. Carlos Argentino was pink-faced, overweight, gray-haired, fine-featured. He held a minor position in an unreadable library out on the edge of the Southside of Buenos Aires. He was authoritarian but also unimpressive. Until only recently, he took advantage of his nights and holidays to stay at home. At a remove of two generations, the Italian “S” and demonstrative Italian gestures still survived in him. His mental activity was continuous, deeply felt, far-ranging, and ― all in all ― meaningless. He dealt in pointless analogies and in trivial scruples. He had (as did Beatriz) large, beautiful, finely shaped hands. For several months he seemed to be obsessed with Paul Fort ― less with his ballads than with the idea of a towering reputation. “He is the Prince of poets,” Daneri would repeat fatuously. “You will belittle him in vain ― but no, not even the most venomous of your shafts will graze him.”

On the thirtieth of April, 1941, along with the sugared cake I allowed myself to add a bottle of Argentine cognac. Carlos Argentino tasted it, pronounced it “interesting,” and, after a few drinks, launched into a glorification of modern man.

“I view him,” he said with a certain unaccountable excitement, “in his inner sanctum, as though in his castle tower, supplied with telephones, telegraphs, phonographs, wireless sets, motion-picture screens, slide projectors, glossaries, timetables, handbooks, bulletins…”

He remarked that for a man so equipped, actual travel was superfluous. Our twentieth century had inverted the story of Mohammed and the mountain; nowadays, the mountain came to the modern Mohammed.

So foolish did his ideas seem to me, so pompous and so drawn out his exposition, that I linked them at once to literature and asked him why he didn’t write them down. As might be foreseen, he answered that he had already done so ― that these ideas, and others no less striking, had found their place in the Proem, or Augural Canto, or, more simply, the Prologue Canto of the poem on which he hd been working for many years now, alone, without publicity, without fanfare, supported only by those twin staffs universally known as work and solitude. First, he said, he opened the floodgates of his fancy; then, taking up hand tools, he resorted to the file. The poem was entitled The Earth; it consisted of a description of the planet, and, of course, lacked no amount of picturesque digressions and bold apostrophes.

I asked him to read me a passage, if only a short one. He opened a drawer of his writing table, drew out a thick stack of papers ― sheets of a large pad imprinted with the letterhead of the Juan Crisóstomo Lafinur Library ― and, with ringing satisfaction, declaimed:

Mine eyes, as did the Greek’s, have known men’s 
towns and fame, 
The works, the days in light that fades to amber; 
I do not change a fact or falsify a name ― 
The voyage I set down is… autour de ma chambre.

“From any angle, a greatly interesting stanza,” he said, giving his verdict. “The opening line wins the applause of the professor, the academician, and the Hellenist ― to say nothing of the would-be scholar, a considerable sector of the public. The second flows from Homer to Hesiod (generous homage, at the very outset, to the father of didactic poetry), not without rejuvenating a process whose roots go back to Scripture ― enumeration, congeries, conglomeration. The third ― baroque? decadent? example of the cult of pure form? ― consists of two equal hemistichs. The fourth, frankly bilingual, assures me the unstinted backing of all minds sensitive to the pleasures of sheer fun. I should, in all fairness, speak of the novel rhyme in lines two and four, and of the erudition that allows me ― without a hint of pedantry! ― to cram into four lines three learned allusions covering thirty centuries packed with literature ― first to the Odyssey, second to Works and Days, and third to the immortal bagatelle bequathed us by the frolicking pen of the Savoyard, Xavier de Maistre. Once more I’ve come to realise that modern art demands the balm of laughter, the scherzo. Decidedly, Goldoni holds the stage!”

He read me many other stanzas, each of which also won his own approval and elicited his lengthy explications. There was nothing remarkable about them. I did not even find them any worse than the first one. Application, resignation, and chance had gone into the writing; I saw, however, that Daneri’s real work lay not in the poetry but in his invention of reasons why the poetry should be admired. Of course, this second phase of his effort modified the writing in his eyes, though not in the eyes of others. Daneri’s style of delivery was extravagant, but the deadly drone of his metric regularity tended to tone down and to dull that extravagance.

[Among my memories are also some lines of a satire in which he lashed out unsparingly at bad poets. After accusing them of dressing their poems in the warlike armour of erudition, and of flapping in vain their unavailing wings, he concluded with this verse:

But they forget, alas, one foremost fact ― BEAUTY!

Only the fear of creating an army of implacable and powerful enemies dissuaded him (he told me) from fearlessly publishing this poem.]

Only once in my life have I had occasion to look into the fifteen thousand alexandrines of the Polyolbion, that topographical epic in which Michael Drayton recorded the flora, fauna, hydrography, orography, military and monastic history of England. I am sure, however, that this limited but bulky production is less boring than Carlos Argentino’s similar vast undertaking. Daneri had in mind to set to verse the entire face of the planet, and, by 1941, had already dispatched a number of acres of the State of Queensland, nearly a mile of the course run by the River Ob, a gasworks to the north of Veracruz, the leading shops in the Buenos Aires parish of Concepción, the villa of Mariana Cambaceres de Alvear in the Belgrano section of the Argentine capital, and a Turkish baths establishment not far from the well-known Brighton Aquarium. He read me certain long-winded passages from his Australian section, and at one point praised a word of his own coining, the colour “celestewhite,” which he felt “actually suggests the sky, an element of utmost importance in the landscape of the Down Under.” But these sprawling, lifeless hexameters lacked even the relative excitement of the so-called Augural Canto. Along about midnight, I left.

Two Sundays later, Daneri rang me up ― perhaps for the first time in his life. He suggested we get together at four o’clock “for cocktails in the salon-bar next door, which the forward-looking Zunino and Zungri ― my landlords, as you doubtless recall ― are throwing open to the public. It’s a place you’ll really want to get to know.”

More in resignation than in pleasure, I accepted. Once there, it was hard to find a table. The “salon-bar,” ruthlessly modern, was only barely less ugly than what I had excepted; at the nearby tables, the excited customers spoke breathlessly of the sums Zunino and Zungri had invested in furnishings without a second thought to cost. Carlos Argentino pretended to be astonished by some feature or other of the lighting arrangement (with which, I felt, he was already familiar), and he said to me with a certain severity, “Grudgingly, you’ll have to admit to the fact that these premises hold their own with many others far more in the public eye.”

He then reread me four or five different fragments of the poem. He had revised them following his pet principle of verbal ostentation: where at first “blue” had been good enough, he now wallowed in “azures,” “ceruleans,” and “ultramarines.” The word “milky” was too easy for him; in the course of an impassioned description of a shed where wool was washed, he chose such words as “lacteal,” “lactescent,” and even made one up ― “lactinacious.” After that, straight out, he condemned our modern mania for having books prefaced, “a practice already held up to scorn by the Prince of Wits in his own grafeful preface to the Quixote.” He admitted, however, that for the opening of his new work an attention-getting foreword might prove valuable ― “an accolade signed by a literary hand of renown.” He next went on to say that he considered publishing the initial cantos of his poem. I then began to understand the unexpected telephone call; Daneri was going to ask me to contribute a foreword to his pedantic hodgepodge. My fear turned out unfounded; Carlos Argentino remarked, with admiration and envy, that surely he could not be far wrong in qualifying with the ephitet “solid” the prestige enjoyed in every circle by Álvaro Melián Lafinur, a man of letters, who would, if I insisted on it, be only too glad to dash off some charming opening words to the poem. In order to avoid ignominy and failure, he suggested I make myself spokesman for two of the book’s undeniable virtues ― formal perfection and scientific rigour ― “inasmuch as this wide garden of metaphors, of figures of speech, of elegances, is inhospitable to the least detail not strictly upholding of truth.” He added that Beatriz had always been taken with Álvaro.

I agreed ― agreed profusely ― and explained for the sake of credibility that I would not speak to Álvaro the next day, Monday, but would wait until Thursday, when we got together for the informal dinner that follows every meeting of the Writers’ Club. (No such dinners are ever held, but it is an established fact that the meetings do take place on Thursdays, a point which Carlos Argentino Daneri could verify in the daily papers, and which lent a certain reality to my promise.) Half in prophecy, half in cunning, I said that before taking up the question of a preface I would outline the unusual plan of the work. We then said goodbye.

Turning the corner of Bernardo de Irigoyen, I reviewed as impartially as possible the alternatives before me. They were: a) to speak to Álvaro, telling him the first cousin of Beatriz’ (the explanatory euphemism would allow me to mention her name) had concocted a poem that seemed to draw out into infinity the possibilities of cacophony and chaos: b) not to say a word to Álvaro. I clearly foresaw that my indolence would opt for b.

But first thing Friday morning, I began worrying about the telephone. It offended me that that device, which had once produced the irrecoverable voice of Beatriz, could now sink so low as to become a mere receptacle for the futile and perhaps angry remonstrances of that deluded Carlos Argentino Daneri. Luckily, nothing happened ― except the inevitable spite touched off in me by this man, who had asked me to fulfill a delicate mission for him and then had let me drop.

Gradually, the phone came to lose its terrors, but one day toward the end of October it rang, and Carlos Argentino was on the line. He was deeply disturbed, so much so that at the outset I did not recognise his voice. Sadly but angrily he stammered that the now unrestrainable Zunino and Zungri, under the pretext of enlarging their already outsized “salon-bar,” were about to take over and tear down this house.

“My home, my ancestral home, my old and inveterate Garay Street home!” he kept repeating, seeming to forget his woe in the music of his words.

It was not hard for me to share his distress. After the age of fifty, all change becomes a hateful symbol of the passing of time. Besides, the scheme concerned a house that for me would always stand for Beatriz. I tried explaining this delicate scruple of regret, but Daneri seemed not to hear me. He said that if Zunino and Zungri persisted in this outrage, Doctor Zunni, his lawyer, would sue ipso facto and make them pay some fifty thousand dollars in damages.

Zunni’s name impressed me; his firm, although at the unlikely address of Caseros and Tacuarí, was nonetheless known as an old and reliable one. I asked him whether Zunni had already been hired for the case. Daneri said he would phone him that very afternoon. He hesitated, then with that level, impersonal voice we reserve for confiding something intimate, he said that to finish them poem he could not get along without the house because down in the cellar there was an Aleph. He explained that an Aleph is one of the points in space that contains all other points.

“It’s in the cellar under the dining room,” he went on, so overcome by his worries now that he forgot to be pompous. “It’s mine ― mine. I discovered it when I was a child, all by myself. The cellar stairway is so steep that my aunt and uncle forbade my using it, but I’d heard someone say there was a world down there. I found out later they meant an old-fashioned globe of the world, but at the time I thought they were referring to the world itself. One day when no one was home I started down in secret, but I stumbled and fell. When I opened my eyes, I saw the Aleph.”

“The Aleph?” I repeated.

“Yes, the only place on earth where all places are ― seen from every angle, each standing clear, without any confusion or blending. I kept the discovery to myself and went back every chance I got. As a child, I did not foresee that this privilege was granted me so that later I could write the poem. Zunino and Zungri will not strip me of what’s mine ― no, and a thousand times no! Legal code in hand, Doctor Zunni will prove that my Aleph is inalienable.”

I tried to reason with him. “But isn’t the cellar very dark?” I said.

“Truth cannot penetrate a closed mind. If all places in the universe are in the Aleph, then all stars, all lamps, all sources of light are in it, too.”

“You wait there. I’ll be right over to see it.”

I hung before he could say no. The full knowledge of a fact sometimes enables you to see all at once many supporting but previously unsuspected things. It amazed me not to have suspected until that moment that Carlos Argentino was a madman. As were all the Viterbos, when you came down to it. Beatriz (I myself often say it) was a woman, a child, with almost uncanny powers of clairvoyance, but forgetfulness, distractions, contempt, and a streak of cruelty were also in her, and perhaps these called for a pathological explanation. Carlos Argentino’s madness filled me with spiteful elation. Deep down, we had always detested each other.

On Garay Street, the maid asked me kindly to wait. The master was, as usual, in the cellar developing pictures. On the unplayed piano, beside a large vase that held no flowers, smiled (more timeless than belonging to the past) the large photograph of Beatriz, in gaudy colours. Nobody could see us; in a seizure of tenderness, I drew close to the portrait and said to it, “Beatriz, Beatriz Elena, Beatriz Elena Viterbo, darling Beatriz, Beatriz now gone forever, it’s me, it’s Borges.”

Moments later, Carlos came in. He spoke drily. I could see he was thinking of nothing else but the loss of the Aleph.

“First a glass of pseudo-cognac,” he ordered, “and then down you dive into the cellar. Let me warn you, you’ll have to lie flat on your back. Total darkness, total immobility, and a certain ocular adjustment will also be necessary. From the floor, you must focus your eyes on the nineteenth step. Once I leave you, I’ll lower the trapdoor and you’ll be quite alone. You needn’t fear the rodents very much ― though I know you will. In a minute or two, you’ll see the Aleph ― the microcosm of the alchemists and Kabbalists, our true proverbial friend, the multum in parvo!”

Once we were in the dining room, he added, “Of course, if you don’t see it, your incapacity will not invalidate what I have experienced. Now, down you go. In a short while you can babble withall of Beatriz’ images.”

Tired of his inane words, I quickly made my way. The cellar, barely wider than the stairway itself, was something of a pit. My eyes searched the dark, looking in vain for the globe Carlos Argentino had spoken of. Some cases of empty bottles and some canvas sacks cluttered one corner. Carlos picked up a sack, folded it in two, and at a fixed spot spread it out.

“As a pillow,” he said, “this is quite threadbare, but if it’s padded even a half-inch higher, you won’t see a thing, and there you’ll lie, feeling ashamed and ridiculous. All right now, sprawl that hulk of yours there on the floor and count off nineteen steps.”

I went through with his absurd requirements, and at last he went away. The trapdoor was carefully shut. The blackness, in spite of a chink that I later made out, seemed to me absolute. For the first time, I realised the danger I was in: I’d let myself be locked in a cellar by a lunatic, after gulping down a glassful of poison! I knew that back of Carlos’ transparent boasting lay a deep fear that I might not see the promised wonder. To keep his madness undetected, to keep from admitting he was mad, Carlos had to kill me. I felt a shock of panic, which I tried to pin to my uncomfortable position and not to the effect of a drug. I shut my eyes ― I opened them. Then I saw the Aleph.

I arrive now at the ineffable core of my story. And here begins my despair as a writer. All language is a set of symbols whose use among its speakers assumes a shared past. How, then, can I translate into words the limitless Aleph, which my floundering mind can scarcely encompass? Mystics, faced with the same problem, fall back on symbols: to signify the godhead, one Persian speaks of a bird that somehow is all birds; Alanus de Insulis, of a sphere whose center is everywhere and circumference is nowhere; Ezekiel, of a four-faced angel who at one and the same time moves east and west, north and south. (Not in vain do I recall these inconceivable analogies; they bear some relation to the Aleph.) Perhaps the gods might grant me a similar metaphor, but then this account would become contaminated by literature, by fiction. Really, what I want to do is impossible, for any listing of an endless series is doomed to be infinitesimal. In that single gigantic instant I saw millions of acts both delightful and awful; not one of them occupied the same point in space, without overlapping or transparency. What my eyes beheld was simultaneous, but what I shall now write down will be successive, because language is successive. Nonetheless, I’ll try to recollect what I can.

On the back part of the step, toward the right, I saw a small iridescent sphere of almost unbearable brilliance. At first I thought it was revolving; then I realised that this movement was an illusion created by the dizzying world it bounded. The Aleph’s diameter was probably little more than an inch, but all space was there, actual and undiminished. Each thing (a mirror’s face, let us say) was infinite things, since I distinctly saw it from every angle of the universe. I saw the teeming sea; I saw daybreak and nightfall; I saw the multitudes of America; I saw a silvery cobweb in the center of a black pyramid; I saw a splintered labyrinth (it was London); I saw, close up, unending eyes watching themselves in me as in a mirror; I saw all the mirrors on earth and none of them reflected me; I saw in a backyard of Soler Street the same tiles that thirty years before I’d seen in the entrance of a house in Fray Bentos; I saw bunches of grapes, snow, tobacco, lodes of metal, steam; I saw convex equatorial deserts and each one of their grains of sand; I saw a woman in Inverness whom I shall never forget; I saw her tangled hair, her tall figure, I saw the cancer in her breast; I saw a ring of baked mud in a sidewalk, where before there had been a tree; I saw a summer house in Adrogué and a copy of the first English translation of Pliny ― Philemon Holland’s ― and all at the same time saw each letter on each page (as a boy, I used to marvel that the letters in a closed book did not get scrambled and lost overnight); I saw a sunset in Querétaro that seemed to reflect the colour of a rose in Bengal; I saw my empty bedroom; I saw in a closet in Alkmaar a terrestrial globe between two mirrors that multiplied it endlessly; I saw horses with flowing manes on a shore of the Caspian Sea at dawn; I saw the delicate bone structure of a hand; I saw the survivors of a battle sending out picture postcards; I saw in a showcase in Mirzapur a pack of Spanish playing cards; I saw the slanting shadows of ferns on a greenhouse floor; I saw tigers, pistons, bison, tides, and armies; I saw all the ants on the planet; I saw a Persian astrolabe; I saw in the drawer of a writing table (and the handwriting made me tremble) unbelievable, obscene, detailed letters, which Beatriz had written to Carlos Argentino; I saw a monument I worshipped in the Chacarita cemetery; I saw the rotted dust and bones that had once deliciously been Beatriz Viterbo; I saw the circulation of my own dark blood; I saw the coupling of love and the modification of death; I saw the Aleph from every point and angle, and in the Aleph I saw the earth and in the earth the Aleph and in the Aleph the earth; I saw my own face and my own bowels; I saw your face; and I felt dizzy and wept, for my eyes had seen that secret and conjectured object whose name is common to all men but which no man has looked upon ― the unimaginable universe.

I felt infinite wonder, infinite pity.

“Feeling pretty cockeyed, are you, after so much spying into places where you have no business?” said a hated and jovial voice. “Even if you were to rack your brains, you couldn’t pay me back in a hundred years for this revelation. One hell of an observatory, eh, Borges?”

Carlos Argentino’s feet were planted on the topmost step. In the sudden dim light, I managed to pick myself up and utter, “One hell of a ― yes, one hell of a.”

The matter-of-factness of my voice surprised me. Anxiously, Carlos Argentino went on.

“Did you see everything ― really clear, in colours?”

At that moment I found my revenge. Kindly, openly pitying him, distraught, evasive, I thanked Carlos Argentino Daneri for the hospitality of his cellar and urged him to make the most of the demolition to get away from the pernicious metropolis, which spares no one ― believe me, I told him, no one! Quietly and forcefully, I refused to discuss the Aleph. On saying goodbye, I embraced him and repeated that the country, that fresh air and quiet were the great physicians.

Out on the street, going down the stairways inside Constitution Station, riding the subway, every one of the faces seemed familiar to me. I was afraid that not a single thing on earth would ever again surprise me; I was afraid I would never again be free of all I had seen. Happily, after a few sleepless nights, I was visited once more by oblivion. 
Postscript of March first, 1943 ― Some six months after the pulling down of a certain building on Garay Street, Procrustes & Co., the publishers, not put off by the considerable length of Daneri’s poem, brought out a selection of its “Argentine sections”. It is redundant now to repeat what happened. Carlos Argentino Daneri won the Second National Prize for Literature. [“I received your pained congratulations,” he wrote me. “You rage, my poor friend, with envy, but you must confess ― even if it chokes you! ― that this time I have crowned my cap with the reddest of feathers; my turban with the most caliph of rubies.”] First Prize went to Dr. Aita; Third Prize, to Dr. Mario Bonfanti. Unbelievably, my own book The Sharper’s Cards did not get a single vote. Once again dullness and envy had their triumph! It’s been some time now that I’ve been trying to see Daneri; the gossip is that a second selection of the poem is about to be published. His felicitous pen (no longer cluttered by the Aleph) has now set itself the task of writing an epic on our national hero, General San Martín.

I want to add two final observations: one, on the nature of the Aleph; the other, on its name. As is well known, the Aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Its use for the strange sphere in my story may not be accidental. For the Kabbala, the letter stands for the En Soph, the pure and boundless godhead; it is also said that it takes the shape of a man pointing to both heaven and earth, in order to show that the lower world is the map and mirror of the higher; for Cantor’s Mengenlehre, it is the symbol of transfinite numbers, of which any part is as great as the whole. I would like to know whether Carlos Argentino chose that name or whether he read it ― applied to another point where all points converge ― in one of the numberless texts that the Aleph in his cellar revealed to him. Incredible as it may seem, I believe that the Aleph of Garay Street was a false Aleph.

Here are my reasons. Around 1867, Captain Burton held the post of British Consul in Brazil. In July, 1942, Pedro Henríquez Ureña came across a manuscript of Burton’s, in a library at Santos, dealing with the mirror which the Oriental world attributes to Iskander Zu al-Karnayn, or Alexander Bicornis of Macedonia. In its crystal the whole world was reflected. Burton mentions other similar devices ― the sevenfold cup of Kai Kosru; the mirror that Tariq ibn-Ziyad found in a tower (Thousand and One Nights, 272); the mirror that Lucian of Samosata examined on the moon (True History, I, 26); the mirrorlike spear that the first book of Capella’s Satyricon attributes; Merlin’s universal mirror, which was “round and hollow… and seem’d a world of glass” (The Faerie Queene, III, 2, 19) ― and adds this curious statement: “But the aforesaid objects (besides the disadvantage of not existing) are mere optical instruments. The Faithful who gather at the mosque of Amr, in Cairo, are acquainted with the fact that the entire universe lies inside one of the stone pillars that ring its central court… No one, of course, can actually see it, but those who lay an ear against the surface tell that after some short while they perceive its busy hum… The mosque dates from the seventh century; the pillars come from other temples of pre-Islamic religions, since, as ibn-Khaldun has written: ‘In nations founded by nomads, the aid of foreigners is essential in all concerning masonry.'”

Does this Aleph exist in the heart of a stone? Did I see it there in the cellar when I saw all things, and have I now forgotten it? Our minds are porous and forgetfulness seeps in; I myself am distorting and losing, under the wearing away of the years, the face of Beatriz.

jorge-luis-borges_01

El Aleph, 1945.  Translation by Norman Thomas Di Giovanni in collaboration with the author.

 

Η έννοια της γλώσσας ως εργαλείου πληροφόρησης, ωθείται σήμερα στα άκρα. Η σχέση των ανθρώπων με τη γλώσσα μεταμορφώνεται.  Τις συνέπειες αυτής της μεταμόρφωσης δεν είμαστε ακόμα σε θέση να αντιμετωπίσουμε.  Η διαδικασία αυτή δεν μπορεί να ανασταλεί με ευθεία παρέμβαση.  Εξάλλου, η διαδικασία αυτή προχωράει μέσα σε βαθύτατη σιωπή.  Προφανώς πρέπει να υποστηρίξουμε ότι η γλώσσα στην καθημερινή ζωή είναι εργαλείο της συνεννόησης και αυτό θα παραμείνει.  Υπάρχουν, εντούτοις, άλλες σχέσεις με τη γλώσσα πλην των κοινών.  Ο Γκαίτε χαρακτηρίζει αυτές τις άλλες σχέσεις ως “βαθύτερες” και λέει για τη γλώσσα: «Στην καθημερινή ζωή αναγκάζουμε τη γλώσσα να λειτουργεί με πρόσκαιρο τρόπο, καθώς πρέπει να εκφράσει μόνο τις επιφανειακές σχέσεις.  Έτσι και αρχίσουμε να μιλάμε για βαθύτερες σχέσεις, ξαφνικά εμφανίζεται μια άλλη γλώσσα – η γλώσσα της ποίησης.»

 

Η αποφασιστική εμπειρία του στοχασμού μου, η οποία ταυτόχρονα αφορά σε ολόκληρη τη δυτική φιλοσοφία, ο διαλογισμός πάνω στην ιστορία της δυτικής φιλοσοφίας, μου έδειξε πως ουδέποτε στο παρελθόν ετέθη ένα ζήτημα: το ζήτημα του είναι.  Αυτό το ζήτημα όμως είναι ουσιώδους σημασίας, καθώς η δυτική σκέψη καθορίζει ότι ο άνθρωπος σχετίζεται με το είναι και υπάρχει σε αντιστοιχία με το είναι.

 

Η αποστολή που σήμερα επιφορτίζεται ο στοχασμός, όπως εγώ την αντιλαμβάνομαι, είναι καινούργια, με την έννοια ότι επιτάσσει μια καινούργια μέθοδο στοχασμού και αυτή η μέθοδος μπορεί να χρησιμοποιηθεί, μόνο, μέσα από το διάλογο ανθρώπου προς άνθρωπο και μπορεί να υλοποιηθεί μόνο μετά από μακρόχρονη άσκηση, μέσα από μια άσκηση που θα μπορούσε να ονομάσει κανένας θέαση μέσα στο στοχασμό.  Αυτό σημαίνει ότι, επί του παρόντος, την ικανότητα για τέτοιο στοχασμό διαθέτουν μόνο λίγοι άνθρωποι.  Ένας τέτοιος στοχσμός, όμως, μπορεί, μέσα από διαφορετικές σφαίρες της παιδείας, να μεταφερθεί και να μεταδοθεί και σε άλλους ανθρώπους.  Θα σας δώσω ένα παράδειγμα. Σήμερα, ο καθένας μπορεί να χειριστεί μια συσκευή ραδιοφώνου ή τηλεόρασης, χωρίς να ξέρει τους νόμους της φυσικής βάσει των οποίων λειτουργούν, χωρίς να γνωρίζει τις μεθόδους με τις οποίες θεμελιώθηκαν αυτοί οι νόμοι – τις μεθόδους, την ουσία του περιεχομένου των οποίων είναι κατανοητό σε πέντε έξι φυσικούς.  Το ίδιο ισχύει και για την αποστολή του στοχασμού.

 

Το ζήτημα της απαίτησης για αλλαγή του κόσμου οδηγεί πίσω στην περίφημη φράση του Καρλ Μαρξ στις Θέσεις για το Φόιερμπαχ και, για να είμαι ακριβής, θα τη διαβάσω από το πρωτότυπο: Μέχρι τώρα, οι φιλόσοφοι απλώς εξηγούσαν (υπογραμμισμένο), με διάφορους τρόπους, τον κόσμο, το θέμα όμως είναι να τον αλλάξουμε.  Αν αναφέρουμε αυτή τη φράση και αν παρακολουθήσουμε τον ειρμό αυτής της φράσεις, παρατηρούμε ότι αψηφά το γεγονός ότι η αλλαγή του κόσμου προϋποθέτει την αλλαγή της ιδέας για τον κόσμο και ότι η ιδέα για τον κόσμο αποκτάται μόνο μετά από την επαρκή ερμηνεία του.  Αυτό σημαίνει ότι ο Μαρξ βασίζεται πάνω σε μια δεδομένη ερμηνεία του κόσμου για να μπορέσει να αξιώσει τη δική του αλλαγή του.  Ως εκ τούτου, η φράση αυτή αποδεικνύεται αστήρικτη.  Προκαλεί την εντύπωση ότι καταφέρεται ενάντια στη φιλοσοφία, ενώ στο δεύτερο μέρος της – παρ’ όλο που κάτι τέτοιο δε δηλώνεται ευθέως – προϋποθέτει, ως αναγκαιότητα, την ύπαρξη μιας φιλοσοφίας.

 

Θα έλεγα πως οι άνθρωποι – λόγου χάρη οι κομμουνιστές – έχουν θρησκεία, καθώς πιστεύουν στην επιστήμη.  Πιστεύουν, άνευ όρων, στη σύγχρονη επιστήμη.  Και αυτή η απόλυτη πίστη στην επιστήμη, δηλαδή η βεβαιότητα για τα αποτελέσματα της επιστήμης, είναι πίστη και, κατά κάποιον τρόπο, κάτι που ξεπερνάει την ύπαρξη ενός ατόμου και, κατά συνέπεια, είναι και αυτό μια θρησκεία.  Θα έλεγα πάντως ότι δεν υπάρχει άνθρωπος χωρίς θρησκεία και κάθε άνθρωπος, με κάποιο τρόπο, υπερβαίνει εαυτόν, ήτοι – είναι ανόητος.