“The Sisters” — James Joyce

“The Sisters”


James Joyce


THERE was no hope for him this time: it was the third stroke. Night after night I had passed the house (it was vacation time) and studied the lighted square of window: and night after night I had found it lighted in the same way, faintly and evenly. If he was dead, I thought, I would see the reflection of candles on the darkened blind for I knew that two candles must be set at the head of a corpse. He had often said to me: “I am not long for this world,” and I had thought his words idle. Now I knew they were true. Every night as I gazed up at the window I said softly to myself the word paralysis. It had always sounded strangely in my ears, like the word gnomon in the Euclid and the word simony in the Catechism. But now it sounded to me like the name of some maleficent and sinful being. It filled me with fear, and yet I longed to be nearer to it and to look upon its deadly work.

Old Cotter was sitting at the fire, smoking, when I came downstairs to supper. While my aunt was ladling out my stirabout he said, as if returning to some former remark of his:

“No, I wouldn’t say he was exactly… but there was something queer… there was something uncanny about him. I’ll tell you my opinion….”

He began to puff at his pipe, no doubt arranging his opinion in his mind. Tiresome old fool! When we knew him first he used to be rather interesting, talking of faints and worms; but I soon grew tired of him and his endless stories about the distillery.

“I have my own theory about it,” he said. “I think it was one of those… peculiar cases…. But it’s hard to say….” Continue reading ““The Sisters” — James Joyce”

All We Marsmen (PKD)


“A little road not made of man” — Emily Dickinson

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It was about the commander of a death squad in El Salvador who falls in love with a nun he’s supposed to massacre (Nell Zink’s Mislaid)

Meg took advantage of Karen’s absence to start another play. It was about the commander of a death squad in El Salvador who falls in love with a nun he’s supposed to massacre. In the early drafts, they were a man and a woman. They were always in bed by act 1, scene 2, because they didn’t have much to say to each other.She decided to draft them as lesbians to make them more communicative. Afterward she could go back and change the death squad commander character to be male. But it didn’t work. The openhearted death squad commander refused to seem male to her.

She rewrote him as a man. Pouty and sarcastic. Instantly the nun became a solicitous bore. He ignored her. And there they were again, back in bed.

She tried again, establishing the female character first, in scenes with other nuns. Now the death squad commander seemed superfluous. She made him win her heart away from the nice nuns by being even nicer, but they were both so unsexy as affectionate chatterboxes, the love story just fell apart. They had to ignore each other to get anything done.

She tried one last time. She rewrote him as a complete jerk. Instead of falling in love with anybody, the commander said he would kill his own death squad to have sex with the nun. Afterward the nun went to bed with him to reward him. It was kind of sexy.

Meg saw a distinct pattern to it: patriarchy.

She had wanted to write about idealized partners. But the impressive men she had known weren’t anybody’s partner. They were lone wolves and dictatorial heads of families. The idea of partnering with a powerful man—well, it sounds nice enough, but even on paper it won’t fly. A novel ends with a wedding for a reason. Partnership is antidramatic. Partners are not adversaries. Partners don’t fuck. Yet she dreamed of loving a lesbian partner. Was she stupid?

Lee had been sexy to her at one time. But it wasn’t because they had a relationship. It was the opposite. Because they didn’t. And then she stupidly became his partner. She wasted her love on a wolf. What an excellent use of her youth and beauty! She glared at the typewriter, blaming it for her existential angst.

She finished the play with the nun sacrificing the other nuns one by one to protect the death squad commander from the revenge of his dead death squad’s death squad friends. She tore it into very small pieces and buried it deep in the trash can.

From Nell Zink’s novel Mislaid.

Mislaid is taking me a lot longer to get through than The Wallcreeper, maybe in large part because I’m reading it as an ebook, which means it’s competing with other stuff on my iPad that’s easier to read after a glass or two (or bottle or two) of red wine—Wittgenstein’s aphoristic Culture and Value, which I can squint at, or Netflix, which is also easier to read. But Mislaid is not uneasy to read at all—it’s good stuff—very very funny, pivoting into plots and places unexpected. The passage above stands on its own (I think), but also does a fair job summarizing (a part of the piece of an aspect of) the plot.

Watch A Day in the Afterlife, a 1994 documentary about Philip K. Dick

Gubbish (Philip K. Dick)

They gubbled and gubbled. He put his hands to his ears, but the product crept up through his nose. Then he saw the place. It was where he wore out. They threw him away there, and gubbish lay in heaps up to his waist; gubbish filled the air.

“What is your name?”

“Steiner, Manfred.”



“Vaccinated against smallpox?”


“Any venereal diseases?”

“Well, a little clap, that’s all.”

“V.D. clinic for this man.”

“Sir, my teeth. They’re in the bag, along with my eyes.”

“Your eyes, oh yes. Give this man his teeth and eyes before you take him to the V.D. clinic. How about your ears, Steiner?”

“Got ’em on, sir. Thank you, sir.”

They tied his hands with gauze to the sides of the bed because he tried to pull out the catheter. He lay facing the window, seeing through the dusty, cracked glass.

Outside, a bug on tall legs picked through the heaps. It ate, and then something squashed it and went on, leaving it squashed with its dead teeth sunk into what it had wanted to eat. Finally its dead teeth got up and crawled out of its mouth in different directions.

He lay there for a hundred and twenty­three years and then his artificial liver gave out and he fainted and died. By that time they had removed both his arms and legs up to the pelvis because those parts of him had decayed.

He didn’t use them anyhow. And without arms he didn’t try to pull the catheter out, and that pleased them.

I been at AM­WEB for a long time, he said. Maybe you can get me a transistor radio so I can tune in Friendly Fred’s Breakfast Club; I like to hear the tunes, they play a lot of the old­time favorites.

Something outside gives me hay fever. Must be those yellow flowering weeds, why do they let them get so tall?

I once saw a ballgame.

For two days he lay on the floor, in a big puddle, and then the landlady found him and called for the truck to bring him here. He snored all the way, it woke him up. When they tried to give him grapefruit juice he could only work one arm, the other never worked again ever. He wished he could still make those leather belts, they were fun and took lots of time. Sometimes he sold them to people who came by on the weekend.

“Do you know who I am, Manfred?”


“I’m Arnie Kott. Why don’t you laugh or smile sometimes, Manfred? Don’t you like to run around and play?”

As he spoke Mr. Kott gubbled from both his eyes.

“Obviously he doesn’t, Arnie, but that’s not what concerns us here anyhow.”

“What do you see, Manfred? Let us in on what you see. All those people, are they going to live there, is that it? Is that right, Manfred? Can you see lots of people living there?”

He put his hands over his face, and the gubble stopped.

“I don’t see why this kid never laughs.”

Gubble, gubble.

Another passage from Philip K. Dick’s novel Martian Time-Slip.

I find the passage’s rhetorical construction remarkable—the “he” whose consciousness we dip into here, briefly, is Manfred Steiner, an “autistic” child with precognitive abilities. The narrative here takes us into the (a?) future (maybe?) for a few sentences, before pivoting back into the novel’s “present” (1994!) with the verbal intrusion of Kott. This little episode ends a chapter, and the next begins with close attention to Kott’s perception of Manfred. I’ve provided some context here, but I think the little passage also stands on its own as a strange flight into breakdown.

Girl Reading on a Divan — Ceri Richards


Spirits will hover over the ashes (Wittgenstein)


From Culture and Value.

And then the hallucination happened (Philip K. Dick)

And then the hallucination, if it was that, happened. He saw the personnel manager in a new light. The man was dead.

He saw, through the man’s skin, his skeleton. It had been wired together, the bones connected with fine copper wire. The organs, which had withered away, were replaced by artificial components, kidney, heart, lungs­—­everything was made of plastic and stainless steel, all working in unison but entirely without authentic life. The man’s voice issued from a tape, through an amplifier and speaker system.

Possibly at some time in the past the man had been real and alive, but that was over, and the stealthy replacement had taken place, inch by inch, progressing insidiously from one organ to the next, and the entire structure was there to deceive others. To deceive him, Jack Bohlen, in fact. He was alone in this office; there was no personnel manager. No one spoke to him, and when he himself talked, no one heard; it was entirely a lifeless, mechanical room in which he stood.

He was not sure what to do; he tried not to stare too hard at the manlike structure before him. He tried to talk calmly, naturally, about his job and even his personal problems. The structure was probing; it wanted to learn something from him. Naturally, he told it as little as possible. And all the time, as he gazed down at the carpet, he saw its pipes and valves and working parts functioning away; he could not keep from seeing.

All he wanted to do was get away as soon as possible. He began to sweat; he was dripping with sweat and trembling, and his heart pounded louder and louder.

“Bohlen,” the structure said, “are you sick?”

“Yes,” he said. “Can I go back down to my bench now?” He turned and started toward the door.

“Just a moment,” the structure said from behind him.

That was when panic overtook him, and he ran; he pulled the door open and ran out into the hall.

An hour or so later he found himself wandering along an unfamiliar street in Burlingame. He did not remember the intervening time and he did not know how he had gotten where he was. His legs ached. Evidently he had walked, mile after mile.

His head was much clearer. I’m schizophrenic, he said to himself. I know it. Everyone knows the Symptoms; it’s catatonic excitement with paranoid coloring: the mental health people drill it into us, even into the school kids. I’m another one of those. That was what the personnel manager was probing.

I need medical help.

From Philip K. Dick’s 1964 novel Martian Time-Slip, which I’m really digging.

Jupiter — Hans Thoma

Read a 1967 Thomas Bernhard story, new in English translation

Douglas Robertson continues his project of translating Thomas Bernhard into English and sharing it at his blog, The Philosophical Worldview Artist, with his latest offering, a 1967 short story called “The Weatherproof Cape.” The tale was originally published in Midland in Stilfs in 1971; its composition and publication put it roughly contemporary with Bernhard’s second novel GargoylesNotice the typically Bernhardian opening (pre-elliptical) clause, with its parenthetical (and suspicious) “verbatim.” Here’s the first sentence of the story (I’m counting “sentence” as ending in a period).


“The Weatherproof Cape”


Thomas Bernhard

English translation by Douglas Robertson

From the Innsbruck lawyer Enderer, our guardian, we received  the following (verbatim) account…for twenty years, mainly in the Saggengasse and mainly at around midday, I have been crossing paths with this person without knowing who this person is; complementarily, for twenty years, mainly in the Saggengasse and mainly at around midday, this man has been crossing paths with me, without knowing who I am…moreover, the man hails from the Saggengasse, albeit from the upper Saggengasse, whereas I hail from the lower Saggengasse; both of us grew up in the Saggengasse and in point of fact, I think, I have always seen this person without knowing that he hails from the Saggengasse and without knowing who he is; complementarily this person has known nothing about me…now it occurs to me that there is something I should have noticed about this person, that I should have noticed his weatherproof cape…we cross paths with a person for years, decades, without knowing who this person is and if we ought to notice anything about the person, we notice nothing about the person, and we could cross paths with such a person over the course of an entire life without noticing anything about the person… suddenly we notice something about this person with whom we have been crossing paths for two decades, we notice something, be it his weatherproof cape, be it something else entirely; suddenly I noticed this person’s weatherproof cape and in connection with this I noticed that the man lived in the Saggengasse and was partial to taking walks along the Sill…a week ago this person accosted me in the Herrengasse and this man went up with me into my office; as we were climbing the stairs it became clear to me that “you have been seeing this person for two full decades, always the same person, always the same aging individual in the Saggengasse, at around midday in this weatherproof cape, in this quite ordinary but quite definitely worn-out weatherproof cape”; still, as we were climbing the stairs it was not yet clear to me why the weatherproof cape in particular was arousing my attention; suddenly, at close proximity, the weatherproof cape was arousing my undivided attention…but it really is quite an ordinary weatherproof cape, I thought; there are tens of thousands of such weatherproof capes in these mountains, there are tens of thousands of such weatherproof capes; tens of thousands of such weatherproof capes are worn by the Tyrolians…no matter who these people are, no matter what they do, when they come here they wear all these weatherproof capes, some of them gray, some of them green; because they wear all these weatherproof capes, the numerous loden factories in the valleys keep flourishing; these weatherproof capes are exported to every corner of the world, but there is something quite distinctive about the weatherproof cape of my new client: its buttonholes are trimmed in kidskin!  I have seen these kidskin-trimmed buttonholes only once before in my life, namely on the weatherproof cape of my uncle, who drowned eight years ago in the lower Sill…this man is wearing exactly the same weatherproof cape as my drowned uncle: that is what I am thinking as I walk up to my office with the man…suddenly I recall that when they pulled my Uncle Worringer out of the Sill, opinion had been divided whether his drowning had been an act of desperation or an accident, but I am certain that it was with so-called suicidal intent that Worringer threw himself into the Sill; for me there can be no doubt about it; Worringer killed himself; everything in his life and ultimately everything in his business life pointed to suicide…by the time they were looking for the drowned man upstream of the glass factory he had already been washed up on to the riverbank downstream of Pradl; the newspapers devoted entire pages to the incident; our entire family was hauled into public view by the press; the phrases a ruined business, ruined timber, a defunct saw-works, and finally economic and corporate ruin haunted the journalists’ sensation-mongering minds…the funeral in Wilten was one of the biggest there has ever been; I remember thousands of people in attendance, writes Enderer…it’s remarkable, I say to the man with whom I am climbing the stairs leading to my office, that I can’t get your weatherproof cape out of my head; several times the thought of your weatherproof cape has popped into my head…your weatherproof cape, believe it or not…I could not help thinking but did not say, there is the most intimate connection between your weatherproof cape and my uncle’s; who knows whether the man knows what I am talking about, I thought and I invite the man to step into the office, step inside! I say, because the man is hesitating, next I am inside the office and taking off my coat and the man is coming in…it looks as though the man was waiting for me in the front doorway of the building; today I am twenty minutes behind schedule, I think, and then: what does this man want?  I am irritated by his taciturnity and his weatherproof cape in alternation; as soon as we were both inside the office, I was more clearly able to see, better able to see, after I had turned the light on, that the buttonholes of the man’s weatherproof cape were trimmed with kidskin, with black kidskin, and I discerned that my new client’s weatherproof cape had been tailored exactly like the weatherproof cape of my Uncle Worringer, tailored in the simplest manner.

Read the rest of “The Weatherproof Cape.”