The impenetrable outline of human bodies is horrible (Kafka’s diary, Oct 30, 1921)

30 October. In the afternoon to the theatre, Pallenberg.
The possibilities within me, I won’t say to act or write The Miser, but to be the miser himself. It would need only a sudden determined movement of my hands, the entire orchestra gazes in fascination at the spot above the conductor’s stand where the baton will rise.
Feeling of complete helplessness.
What is it that binds you more intimately to these impenetrable, talking, eye-blinking bodies than to any other thing, the penholder in your hand, for example? Because you belong to the same species? But you don’t belong to the same species, that’s the very reason why you raised this question.
The impenetrable outline of human bodies is horrible.
The wonder, the riddle of my not having perished already, of the silent power guiding me. It forces one to this absurdity: ‘Left to my own resources, I should have long ago been lost.’ My own resources.

From Franz Kafka’s diary entry of October 30, 1921.

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“That after Horror — that ’twas us — ” — Emily Dickinson

Capture

À Edgar Poe (Bells) — Odilon Redon

bells

“The Middle Toe of the Right Foot” — Ambrose Bierce

“The Middle Toe of the Right Foot”

by

Ambrose Bierce

I

It is well known that the old Manton house is haunted. In all the rural district near about, and even in the town of Marshall, a mile away, not one person of unbiased mind entertains a doubt of it; incredulity is confined to those opinionated persons who will be called “cranks” as soon as the useful word shall have penetrated the intellectual demesne of the Marshall Advance. The evidence that the house is haunted is of two kinds; the testimony of disinterested witnesses who have had ocular proof, and that of the house itself. The former may be disregarded and ruled out on any of the various grounds of objection which may be urged against it by the ingenious; but facts within the observation of all are material and controlling.

In the first place the Manton house has been unoccupied by mortals for more than ten years, and with its outbuildings is slowly falling into decay—a circumstance which in itself the judicious will hardly venture to ignore. It stands a little way off the loneliest reach of the Marshall and Harriston road, in an opening which was once a farm and is still disfigured with strips of rotting fence and half covered with brambles overrunning a stony and sterile soil long unacquainted with the plow. The house itself is in tolerably good condition, though badly weather-stained and in dire need of attention from the glazier, the smaller male population of the region having attested in the manner of its kind its disapproval of dwelling without dwellers. It is two stories in height, nearly square, its front pierced by a single doorway flanked on each side by a window boarded up to the very top. Corresponding windows above, not protected, serve to admit light and rain to the rooms of the upper floor. Grass and weeds grow pretty rankly all about, and a few shade trees, somewhat the worse for wind, and leaning all in one direction, seem to be making a concerted effort to run away. In short, as the Marshall town humorist explained in the columns of the Advance, “the proposition that the Manton house is badly haunted is the only logical conclusion from the premises.” The fact that in this dwelling Mr. Manton thought it expedient one night some ten years ago to rise and cut the throats of his wife and two small children, removing at once to another part of the country, has no doubt done its share in directing public attention to the fitness of the place for supernatural phenomena. Read More

“What Was It?” — Fitz James O’Brien

“What Was It?”

by

Fitz James O’Brien

It is, I confess, with considerable diffidence, that I approach the strange narrative which I am about to relate. The events which I purpose detailing are of so extraordinary a character that I am quite prepared to meet with an unusual amount of incredulity and scorn. I accept all such beforehand. I have, I trust, the literary courage to face unbelief. I have, after mature consideration resolved to narrate, in as simple and straightforward a manner as I can compass, some facts that passed under my observation, in the month of July last, and which, in the annals of the mysteries of physical science, are wholly unparalleled.

I live at No. —— Twenty-sixth Street, in New York. The house is in some respects a curious one. It has enjoyed for the last two years the reputation of being haunted. It is a large and stately residence, surrounded by what was once a garden, but which is now only a green enclosure used for bleaching clothes. The dry basin of what has been a fountain, and a few fruit trees ragged and unpruned, indicate that this spot in past days was a pleasant, shady retreat, filled with fruits and flowers and the sweet murmur of waters.

The house is very spacious. A hall of noble size leads to a large spiral staircase winding through its center, while the various apartments are of imposing dimensions. It was built some fifteen or twenty years since by Mr. A——, the well-known New York merchant, who five years ago threw the commercial world into convulsions by a stupendous bank fraud. Mr. A——, as everyone knows, escaped to Europe, and died not long after, of a broken heart. Almost immediately after the news of his decease reached this country and was verified, the report spread in Twenty-sixth Street that No. —— was haunted. Legal measures had dispossessed the widow of its former owner, and it was inhabited merely by a caretaker and his wife, placed there by the house agent into whose hands it had passed for the purposes of renting or sale. These people declared that they were troubled with unnatural noises. Doors were opened without any visible agency. The remnants of furniture scattered through the various rooms were, during the night, piled one upon the other by unknown hands. Invisible feet passed up and down the stairs in broad daylight, accompanied by the rustle of unseen silk dresses, and the gliding of viewless hands along the massive balusters. The caretaker and his wife declared they would live there no longer. The house agent laughed, dismissed them, and put others in their place. The noises and supernatural manifestations continued. The neighborhood caught up the story, and the house remained untenanted for three years. Several persons negotiated for it; but, somehow, always before the bargain was closed they heard the unpleasant rumors and declined to treat any further. Read More

Phantoms and Ghosts in DFW’s Novel The Pale King (Ghost Riff 2)

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The narrator of David Foster Wallace’s posthumous novel The Pale King assures us at one point that “phantoms are not the same as real ghosts.”

Okay.

So what’s a phantom then, at least in the universe of The Pale King?

Phantom refers to a particular kind of hallucination that can afflict rote examiners at a certain threshold of concentrated boredom.

The “rote examiners” are IRS agents who perform Sisyphean tasks of boredom. They are also placeholders for anyone who works a boring, repetitive job.

(We might even wax a bit here on the phrase rote examiner—the paradox in it—that to examine should require looking at the examined with fresh eyes, a fresh spirit—a spirit canceled out by the modifier rote).

In The Pale King, phantoms visit the rote examiners who toil in wiggle rooms. The “phantoms are always deeply, diametrically different from the examiners they visit,” suggesting two simultaneous outcomes: 1) an injection of life-force, a disruption of stasis that serves to balance out the examiner’s personality and 2) in the novel’s own language, “the yammering mind-monkey of their own personality’s dark, self-destructive side.”

In one scene, desperate Lane Dean contemplates suicide on the job, until he’s visited by a phantom.

“Yes but now that you’re getting a taste, consider it, the word. You know the one.”

The word is boredom, and the phantom proceeds to give a lecture on its etymology:

Word appears suddenly in 1766. No known etymology. The Earl of March uses it in a letter describing a French peer of the realm. He didn’t cast a shadow, but that didn’t mean anything. For no reason, Lane Dean flexed his buttocks. In fact the first three appearances of bore in English conjoin it with the adjective French, that French bore, that boring Frenchman, yes? The French of course had malaise, ennui. See Pascal’s fourth Pensée, which Lane Dean heard as pantsy.

(Thank you, narrator—who are you?!—for mediating the phantom’s speech and Dean’s misauditing of that speech). Read More

“A Relation of the Apparition of Mrs. Veal” — Daniel Defoe

“A Relation of the Apparition of Mrs. Veal”

by

Daniel Defoe

The Preface

This relation is matter of fact, and attended with such circumstances, as may induce any reasonable man to believe it. It was sent by a gentleman, a justice of peace, at Maidstone, in Kent, and a very intelligent person, to his friend in London, as it is here worded; which discourse is attested by a very sober and understanding gentlewoman, a kinswoman of the said gentleman’s, who lives in Canterbury, within a few doors of the house in which the within-named Mrs. Bargrave lives; who believes his kinswoman to be of so discerning a spirit, as not to be put upon by any fallacy; and who positively assured him that the whole matter, as it is related and laid down, is really true; and what she herself had in the same words, as near as may be, from Mrs. Bargrave’s own mouth, who, she knows, had no reason to invent and publish such a story, or any design to forge and tell a lie, being a woman of much honesty and virtue, and her whole life a course, as it were, of piety. The use which we ought to make of it, is to consider, that there is a life to come after this, and a just God, who will retribute to every one according to the deeds done in the body; and therefore to reflect upon our past course of life we have led in the world; that our time is short and uncertain; and that if we would escape the punishment of the ungodly, and receive the reward of the righteous, which is the laying hold of eternal life, we ought, for the time to come, to return to God by a speedy repentance, ceasing to do evil, and learning to do well: to seek after God early, if happily he may be found of us, and lead such lives for the future, as may be well pleasing in his sight.


A Relation of the Apparition of Mrs. Veal

This thing is so rare in all its circumstances, and on so good authority, that my reading and conversation has not given me anything like it: it is fit to gratify the most ingenious and serious inquirer. Mrs. Bargrave is the person to whom Mrs. Veal appeared after her death; she is my intimate friend, and I can avouch for her reputation, for these last fifteen or sixteen years, on my own knowledge; and I can confirm the good character she had from her youth, to the time of my acquaintance. Though, since this relation, she is calumniated by some people, that are friends to the brother of this Mrs. Veal, who appeared; who think the relation of this appearance to be a reflection, and endeavour what they can to blast Mrs. Bargrave’s reputation, and to laugh the story out of countenance. But by the circumstances thereof, and the cheerful disposition of Mrs. Bargrave, notwithstanding the ill-usage of a very wicked husband, there is not yet the least sign of dejection in her face; nor did I ever hear her let fall a desponding or murmuring expression; nay, not when actually under her husband’s barbarity; which I have been witness to, and several other persons of undoubted reputation.

Now you must know, Mrs. Veal was a maiden gentlewoman of about thirty years of age, and for some years last past had been troubled with fits; which were perceived coming on her, by her going off from her discourse very abruptly to some impertinence. She was maintained by an only brother, and kept his house in Dover. She was a very pious woman, and her brother a very sober man to all appearance; but now he does all he can to null or quash the story. Mrs. Veal was intimately acquainted with Mrs. Bargrave from her childhood. Mrs. Veal’s circumstances were then mean; her father did not take care of his children as he ought, so that they were exposed to hardships; and Mrs. Bargrave, in those days, had as unkind a father, though she wanted neither for food nor clothing, whilst Mrs. Veal wanted for both; insomuch that she would often say, Mrs. Bargrave, you are not only the best, but the only friend I have in the world, and no circumstance of life shall ever dissolve my friendship. They would often condole each other’s adverse fortunes, and read together Drelincourt upon Death, and other good books; and so, like two Christian friends, they comforted each other under their sorrow. Read More

Two ghosts (David Foster Wallace)

The truth is that there are two actual, non-hallucinatory ghosts haunting Post 047’s wiggle room. No one knows whether there are any in the Immersive Pods; those Pods are worlds unto themselves.
 
The ghosts’ names are Garrity and Blumquist. Much of the following info comes after the fact from Claude Sylvanshine. Blumquist is a very bland, dull, efficient rote examiner who died at his desk unnoticed in 1980. Some of the older examiners actually worked with him in rotes in the 1970s. The other ghost is older. Meaning dating from an earlier historical period. Garrity had evidently been a line inspector for Mid West Mirror Works in the mid-twentieth century. His job was to examine each one of a certain model of decorative mirror that came off the final production line, for flaws. A flaw was usually a bubble or unevenness in the mirror’s aluminum backing that caused the reflected image to distend or distort in some way. Garrity had twenty seconds to check each mirror. Industrial psychology was a primitive discipline then, and there was little understanding of non-physical types of stress. In essence, Garrity sat on a stool next to a slow-moving belt and moved his upper body in a complex system of squares and butterfly shapes, examining his face’s reflection at very close range. He did this three times a minute, 1,440 times per day, 356 days a year, for eighteen years. Toward the end he evidently moved his body in the complex inspectorial system of squares and butterfly shapes even when he was off-duty and there were no mirrors around. In 1964 or 1965 he had apparently hanged himself from a steam pipe in what is now the north hallway off the REC Annex’s wiggle room. Among the staff at 047, only Claude Sylvanshine knows anything detailed about Garrity, whom he’s never actually seen—and then most of what Sylvanshine gets is repetitive data on Garrity’s weight, belt size, the topology of optical flaws, and the number of strokes it takes to shave with your eyes closed. Garrity is the easier of the wiggle room’s two ghosts to mistake for a phantom because he’s extremely chatty and distracting and thus is often taken by wigglers straining to maintain concentration as the yammering mind-monkey of their own personality’s dark, self-destructive side.
 
Blumquist is different. When Blumquist manifests in the air near an examiner, he just basically sits with you. Silently, without moving. Only a slight translucence about Blumquist and his chair betrays anything untoward. He’s no bother. It’s not like he stares at you in an uncomfortable way. You get the sense that he just likes to be there. The sense is ever so slightly sad. He has a high forehead and mild eyes made large by his glasses. Sometimes he’s hatted; sometimes he holds the hat by the brim as he sits. Except for those examiners who spasm out at any sort of visitation—and these are the rigid, fragile ones who are ripe for phantom-visits anyhow, so it’s something of a vicious circle—except for these, most examiners accept or even like a visit from Blumquist. He has a few he seems to favor, but he is quite democratic. The wigglers find him companionable. But no one ever speaks of him.

From David Foster Wallace’s novel The Pale King.

Lispector/Jobim

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Clarice Lispector interviewed Antônio Carlos Jobim in 1968. Lovely, even through the strange wonderful estranging filter of Google translate.

Doré’s Ghost of Banquo (Ghost Riff 1)

It’s the disconcerting incompleteness of Gustave Doré’s The Spectrum Appearance of Banquo at Macbeth’s Feast that, paradoxically, creates the full, troubling effect of the picture.

“Enter Ghost of Banquo, and sits in Macbeth’s place” (Act 3, Sc. 4)—thus the stage directions from Shakespeare (or the actors who wrote down his words from memory)—and thus Banquo, draped, robed, sullen, taciturn, a marble effigy—but no, lifelike—no?

The Macbeths, shocked—Doré stages Lady M as a shadowy echo/support for Lord M—teeter aslant, Lord M’s left hand braced on the chairback that divides the painting—their faces, the Macbeths’ faces, wholly enshadowed (not wholly; Lady M’s nose peeks out in white silhouette); Lord M’s whole head a gravid mass of dark crowned with an incomplete crown, a broken circle.

Banquo’s eyes: Chilly, stern, accusatory, sad. And over them, thy gory locks. Do they shake at Lord Macbeth?

In The Life and Reminiscences of Gustave Doré, Blanche Roosevelt claims to have “seen no less than six sketches of Macbeth at the banquet, when confronted by Banquo’s ghost.” The biographer continues: “Doré was so original that it was almost impossible for him to repeat himself, even designedly.”

There seems here a condensation of repetitions. Doré’s control is to let loose control: Banquo’s robes are mummy wrappings unraveling: unraveling Lord Macbeth’s consciousness, even, I suppose. Squiggles, pulses, suggesting phantom movement, energy without depth. They unwind from his firm, marble visage—the look, the gory locks that shake, the chin that nods.

Cousin Ross has called out Banquo for his absence, which “lays blame upon his promise,” and of course this is Shakespeare’s big trick, the trick that Doré captures so well here—that Banquo is the most startlingly present absence, the most impossible absence, the absence that proves the radical uncertainty of presence, the present absence that haunts Macbeth, that silently affirms future ghostliness, attesting mutely that “charnel-houses and our graves must send Those that we bury back,” that “our monuments Shall be the maws of kites.”

“A Ghost” — Guy de Maupassant

“A Ghost”

by Guy de Maupassant

Trans. by M. Charles Sommer.

We were speaking of sequestration, alluding to a recent lawsuit. It was at the close of a friendly evening in a very old mansion in the Rue de Grenelle, and each of the guests had a story to tell, which he assured us was true.

Then the old Marquis de la Tour-Samuel, eighty-two years of age, rose and came forward to lean on the mantelpiece. He told the following story in his slightly quavering voice.

“I, also, have witnessed a strange thing—so strange that it has been the nightmare of my life. It happened fifty-six years ago, and yet there is not a month when I do not see it again in my dreams. From that day I have borne a mark, a stamp of fear,—do you understand?

“Yes, for ten minutes I was a prey to terror, in such a way that ever since a constant dread has remained in my soul. Unexpected sounds chill me to the heart; objects which I can ill distinguish in the evening shadows make me long to flee. I am afraid at night.

“No! I would not have owned such a thing before reaching my present age. But now I may tell everything. One may fear imaginary dangers at eighty-two years old. But before actual danger I have never turned back, mesdames.

“That affair so upset my mind, filled me with such a deep, mysterious unrest that I never could tell it. I kept it in that inmost part, that corner where we conceal our sad, our shameful secrets, all the weaknesses of our life which cannot be confessed.

Read More

The Four Seasons — Claudio Bravo

claudio-bravo

“Two celebrated ghosts existed, once on a time, in the wilds of Craig-Aulnaic, a romantic place in the district of Strathdown, Banffshire.”

“The Ghosts of Craig-Aulnaic”

from Folk-Lore and Legends of Scotland by W.W. Gibbings

Two celebrated ghosts existed, once on a time, in the wilds of Craig-Aulnaic, a romantic place in the district of Strathdown, Banffshire.  The one was a male and the other a female.  The male was called Fhuna Mhoir Ben Baynac, after one of the mountains of Glenavon, where at one time he resided; and the female was called Clashnichd Aulnaic, from her having had her abode in Craig-Aulnaic.  But although the great ghost of Ben Baynac was bound by the common ties of nature and of honour to protect and cherish his weaker companion, Clashnichd Aulnaic, yet he often treated her in the most cruel and unfeeling manner.  In the dead of night, when the surrounding hamlets were buried in deep repose, and when nothing else disturbed the solemn stillness of the midnight scene, oft would the shrill shrieks of poor Clashnichd burst upon the slumberer’s ears, and awake him to anything but pleasant reflections.

But of all those who were incommoded by the noisy and unseemly quarrels of these two ghosts, James Owre or Gray, the tenant of the farm of Balbig of Delnabo, was the greatest sufferer.  From the proximity of his abode to their haunts, it was the misfortune of himself and family to be the nightly audience of Clashnichd’s cries and lamentations, which they considered anything but agreeable entertainment. Read More

“The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” — Edgar Allan Poe

“The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”

by

Edgar Allan Poe

Harry-Clarke--Poe--Tales-of-Mystery-and-Imagination--22_900

Illustration by Harry Clarke

Of course I shall not pretend to consider it any matter for wonder, that the extraordinary case of M. Valdemar has excited discussion. It would have been a miracle had it not-especially under the circumstances. Through the desire of all parties concerned, to keep the affair from the public, at least for the present, or until we had farther opportunities for investigation—through our endeavors to effect this—a garbled or exaggerated account made its way into society, and became the source of many unpleasant misrepresentations, and, very naturally, of a great deal of disbelief.

It is now rendered necessary that I give the facts—as far as I comprehend them myself. They are, succinctly, these:

My attention, for the last three years, had been repeatedly drawn to the subject of Mesmerism; and, about nine months ago it occurred to me, quite suddenly, that in the series of experiments made hitherto, there had been a very remarkable and most unaccountable omission:—no person had as yet been mesmerized in articulo mortis. It remained to be seen, first, whether, in such condition, there existed in the patient any susceptibility to the magnetic influence; secondly, whether, if any existed, it was impaired or increased by the condition; thirdly, to what extent, or for how long a period, the encroachments of Death might be arrested by the process. There were other points to be ascertained, but these most excited my curiosity—the last in especial, from the immensely important character of its consequences. Read More